CORAL GABLES — Braxton Berrios is hearing from former Hurricanes after playing starring role in a streak-busting win at Florida State.
He’s hardly alone.
“It’s truly been incredible,” said Berrios, who counted a message from Gino Torretta among his favorite feedback. “It’s been a cool few days.”
Students and players enjoyed themselves last weekend at various off-campus events. Hurricanes fans everywhere are puffing their chests at the office this week. Miami President Julio Frenk visited practice Tuesday to congratulate the team. Malik Rosier said his teachers are showing love in class.
“The whole campus is excited,” he said.
It was a thrilling win for everyone involved with the Miami program, given its seven-year drought against its biggest rival. While Berrios said he and his teammates “basked in all its glory on Saturday night, and I’d say Sunday as well,” he reports they’ve refocused.
“In years past, when we’ve lost to Florida State, there’s been a hangover,” he said. “This year, it can’t be a ‘good’ hangover.”
Last year, losing to the Seminoles brought three losses afterward, the nadir of an otherwise promising campaign. In 2015, UM rebounded to beat Virginia Tech at home the following week but then was clobbered by Clemson (most people reading this recall what happened after that). FSU began a four-game losing streak in 2014, and a three-game skid in 2013.
In the simplest terms: since 2009, the Canes’ most recent win in this series, the Noles have sidetracked their seasons.
From 2010 to 2016, Miami was 20-25 from the Florida State game until the end of the year.
Adding up the FSU game and the next three, Miami was 8-19.
In three-game stretches that began with FSU: 5-16.
FSU and the game after: 4-10.
Notice a pattern? Miami has. That’s why they’re eager to build off an FSU victory, now that they’re not recovering from an FSU loss.
Mark Richt, who is 14-2 against Georgia Tech, knows it won’t be easy to beat the Yellow Jackets on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC), but he’s confident UM can ” just relax a little bit, take care of business and do what you’re supposed to do.” He used those words to speak about the confidence his staff and players have at halftime of games, but they apply in this regard.
His program has won its last nine games, its longest stretch since 2003-04 and the third-longest current run in the country.
“It’s tough to beat teams that are used to winning,” he said. “We’re getting used to winning. We’re beginning to show the characteristics of a winning team.
“Recruits can see Miami is on our way back. … Everyone is saying, ‘Is Miami back?’ We’re not back. But we’re moving in the right direction.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, asked about Georgia Tech’s pounding, confounding triple-option offense, said he’s trying to normalize a boogeyman. “You have to take something that appears complex and break it down and make it simple,” he said. “If it becomes a monster, it’s going to behave like a monster.”
Anyway, it’s not like FSU put a mystical hex on the Hurricanes, rendering them powerless the following week.Injuries may have something to do with it, though. The Miami-FSU game is typically a brutal one for both sides, with most players who played experiencing greater-than-usual soreness in the days after. Miami’s injury report last year included six prominent starters, including one season-ending injury. This week, both UM and FSU are hobbling around.
Richt on Wednesday wouldn’t discuss the status of any of his injured players, including starting wideout Ahmmon Richards (hamstring), right guard Navaughn Donaldson (ankle sprain), cornerback Dee Delaney (believed to be a knee issue) or safety Sheldrick Redwine (apparently an upper body ailment), all of whom have been limited this week.
He did announce he was putting redshirt sophomore running back Crispian Atkins, a former walk-on, on scholarship. That’s a little bit of good news for a unit that just lost star Mark Walton to season-ending ankle surgery.
Even Berrios, durable as they come, has been banged-up. The senior has worn a green (no-contact) practice jersey in practices this week. Richt said Berrios was “sore” after a hard-fought game in Tallahassee, but Berrios doesn’t expect that to carry over.
“I’m good. I’ll be fine,” he said. ” You’ll see me Saturday.”
If history is any indication, the 11th-ranked Hurricanes (4-0, 2-0 ACC) could struggle against Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0), and most likely will in the first few defensive series.
The Yellow Jackets rank 31st in points (36.5), 35th in yards per play (6.35) and unsurprisingly, second nationally in rushing yards per game (396.0). The Yellow Jackets average 5.91 yards per carry (10th), which ranks behind Miami’s 6.40 (sixth). Georgia Tech hasn’t finished behind Miami — or anywhere outside the top 20 — in rushing yards per carry since at least 2008.
As usual, Georgia Tech leads the country in time of possession per game (nearly 37 minutes per game), gains third-downs often (fourth nationally in conversion percentage, 53.3) and is 4-of-5 on fourth down (ninth). In the red zone, Tech scores touchdowns 71.43 percent of the time, which is 26th nationally (UM is 49th).
Diaz said the “constant threat” of explosive passing plays is a worry, and stout tackling, especially in the secondary, is critical. “Everyone thinks about their run game,” Diaz said. “They’ve only thrown it 33 times in four games, but when they do, they get yards. They’ve got guys down the field that can go get it. The quarterback throws it down the field better than you wish he did.”
The speed of that running game, the dizzying pitches and disguised tosses, could be a rude awakening if anyone’s still riding high off last week’s win. Diaz was critical of his defense — which allowed a field goal before halftime at FSU — and noted some were playing “hero ball” against the Noles. That won’t work against Georgia Tech’s trademark 10-play drives.
“You do as much as you can in practice, but it’s going to be way faster in the game,”said defensive end Joe Jackson, who had a scoop-and-score touchdown last year in Atlanta. “I just tell [younger teammates], be prepared for anything. That’s what you’ve got to be prepared for when you play Georgia Tech.”
Opposing offenses usually have a long and agonizing wait, especially if they didn’t score on the previous drive.
“It’s frustrating. You get anxious to get out there. It’s different,” Berrios said. “I’ve gone through it three times, but you’re still not used to it.”
There’s plenty of reason to trust in this coaching staff. According to research done by the Miami Herald, UM outscored opponents by just two points, 236-234, in the second halves of the final 20 games under Al Golden (from 2014 through his Oct. 2015 firing).
During the first 17 games under Richt, Miami’s second-half advantage is 333-128, and has been outscored after halftime in twice of those games. In its current nine-game win streak, UM has a 195-59 scoring edge after halftime.
Another stat of note: Georgia Tech hasn’t beaten UM outside of Atlanta since 2007. Hard Rock Stadium should be more than happy to see the home crowd this week.
“We don’t like to go on away games, but we love being the enemy,” Jackson said. “We also love to play in front of our friends. It’s going to feel good to have this home game.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson doesn’t expect Miami to sleepwalk, especially with first place in the ACC Coastal Division on the line.
“They know what the importance of the game is,” he said. “They’re going to be ready to play. It’s a division game. It’s a home game for them. If we go in there and beat them, it won’t be because they had a letdown.”