CORAL GABLES — Perhaps the simplest way to motivate a confident athlete: tell them they can’t do something.
Mark Richt knows that well. That’s why he showed players a video in the locker room before last week’s game against Notre Dame. Talking head after talking head picked the third-ranked Irish to beat the seventh-ranked Hurricanes. They said Miami couldn’t stop the best run game in the country. Miami couldn’t score in the red zone. The big win over Virginia Tech was an aberration: Miami’s luck was about to run out.
Now that Miami is rising — all the way up to No. 2 in the polls, and locked into a top-four spot when the new batch of College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday — Richt isn’t telling, but asking.
“Can you handle prosperity?” was the question of the week.
He admits he doesn’t know.
Even Richt, in his 17th season as a head coach, has never started a season 9-0.
“It’s uncharted territory for most of our guys,” said offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who first said the team “ignored” the outside slights, and was reminded that’s not quite accurate.
“We’ll find plenty of stuff,” he promised.
Next up is Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC), which comes to Hard Rock Stadium for Miami’s senior day (noon, ABC). Richt, as usual, gave a detailed scouting report in his Tuesday press conference, affirming that the Cavaliers would be a stiff challenge. He sang the praises of coach Bronco Mendenhall and 11 individual players. Standard stuff.
Miami players paid attention in the film room. They’re performing on the practice field. In interviews, they’re saying all the right things — but with the confidence that comes with demonstrated performance.
“We’ve got great things ahead,” sophomore linebacker Michael Pinckney said. “We have to come out this week and take Virginia (as seriously as) Notre Dame. … When you look outside, you tend to bring that inside, and inside is everything to the program.”
Pinckney appreciates the love. After the Notre Dame game, former Miami star Dan Morgan texted to say “great job, I love the way you guys are playing as a defense,” Pinckney said. “That’s someone I always looked up to when I was younger. That just made my day. D.J. Williams, (Jon) Beason, (Jonathan) Vilma, all those guys. As a younger guy, that makes us feel special.”
But the fire isn’t far away. Moments later, he said this:
“I feel like they still don’t respect us. They have to say it now, because we did something great. If we go out and play bad this game, I guarantee you the comments that were said before this game will come right back. They’ll say we had a lucky game, that we’re frauds. We’ve got to come out and dominate.”
Senior kicker Michael Badgley’s spin on it:
“It’s all internal. All it takes is us believing in us. It’s no one before that. As much as they wanted to count us out, and now they want to be on our side, it’s always been us.
“We’re driven. We’re motivated. The season we’re having, as much fun as we’re having, it’s hard work. Everything’s paying off, it’s showing on the field. A lot of people are counting us out. We’re embracing that motor.”
Sophomore defensive end Joe Jackson said it’s business as usual.
“The mindset doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s come in, get the work in, go out, play, and win. That’s our mindset every day, day-in, day out. Now that we have the target, it doesn’t really matter. That’s what we want.
The outcome’s going to be the same: we’re going to grind, we’re going to grind, we’re going to come out and play, try to fight you, try to punch you in the mouth.”
Loved or hated, safety Jaquan Johnson said, “We’re going to play pissed off regardless.”