Miami-Florida State 2017: Six things Mark Richt said before playing the Seminoles

Mark Richt (Miami Herald)

[Commentary: Miami culture is one for fun]

[Canes hoping to ‘kick their behinds’ in Tallahassee]

[UM, QBs have storied, spotty history at FSU]

[Miami fast forgetting Rosier is first-year starter]

[Miami-Florida State week is here: ‘It’s overdue’]

[UM ranked 13th, FSU unranked | UM 3-pt. favorite]

Six tidbits from Mark Richt‘s weekly press conference, in this case before No.  13 Miami’s game Saturday at Florida State (3:30 p.m., ESPN):

Mark Walton will play.  

The star running back was full-go Tuesday. “He did all right,” Richt said. “He’s going to play. Like last week, unless there’s a setback, he’s going to play.”

Asked to confirm if Walton practiced fully, Richt said: “Yeah.  I don’t know what that means, but yeah.”

Same thing with Ahmmon Richards (hamstring). “He looked good,” Richt said.

Richt not worried about the streak. 

When a reporter pointed out that Miami has lost to Florida State seven times in a row, Richt quietly deadpanned, “Is that right?” When the reporter called that “unimaginable,” Richt disagreed.

“It’s not unimaginable,” he said. “Florida State’s a really good program. It’s happened.  It’s in the past. We don’t worry too much about it.”

Richt said he hasn’t mentioned the streak to players, and he doesn’t think players are thinking about it (it would seem that isn’t the case, judging by their earlier comments).

“We don’t have kids who have been here seven years,” he said. “They’re definitely not worried about that streak right now.”

Or the noise. 

Thirty-seven players on Miami’s two-deep depth chart for Florida State week have not seen action at Doak Campbell Stadium. One who has, receiver Lawrence Cager, said he felt the ground move when FSU makes a big play. Richt said he’s not concerned about a sure-to-be-sold-out crowd that wants badly to see their team overcome its 1-2 (1-1 ACC) start with a win over Miami.

“Once you have to go non-verbal communication, it doesn’t matter if it’s 20,000 or 80,000,” Richt said. “They definitely have a great atmosphere,” which “encourages when they do something great, and accentuates when we don’t do something well. That’s the thing that especially young players have to let roll off your back.”

The Hurricanes didn’t hear the war chant Tuesday, as they practiced in Davie at the Miami Dolphins’ quiet indoor bubble. They were attempting to escape some expected bad weather. Though the skies wound up being relatively clear, UM was more than happy to take a 45-minute bus ride to ensure an unaltered practice during FSU week. UM’s indoor facility is on track to open in Aug. 2018.

Other noise that’s of little concern to Richt: trash talk between the players.

“It’s just like back in high school,” he said. “They know each other and they’re always chirping back and forth. I don’t even know if they’re doing things social media-wise that I don’t see, but it’s all part of competition.”

Richt clearly respects the Noles’ talent. 

Richt lets his defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, do most of the worrying about an opponent’s offense. You can tell Richt has studied the Noles’ personnel in all facets.

Among the various players he spotlighted:

Receiver Auden Tate: “leading receiver, 226 yards, 13 catches, three touchdowns – a go-to guy for sure. If you watched, I think it was the NC State game, he caught seven or eight balls, something like that, and probably would have caught a bunch more if he had finished the game. Very talented guy.”

Running back Jacques Patrick: “A big, giant beast of a guy. Really great at breaking through tackles and playing the physical brand of ball. A lot of people want to talk about [Cam] Akers too, for good reason. He was one of the best players in the country last year in high school.”

Quarterback James Blackman: “As we all know, is a true freshman. He’s playing as a true freshman. But I think he has done nothing but gain experience and gain confidence. He has had no interceptions, he threw a game-winner last week, which I’m sure helped him. He played two times away as a starter and now he gets to go home and play in front of his crowd.

Though special teams errors have plagued the Seminoles — it wiped out any chance they had of beating Alabama in week one — Richt called them “dangerous” and “great.”

“They’ve had their ups and downs, like we have to a certain degree,” he said. “You look at their return men, if you saw the Wake game, I think [Derwin] James took it back 100 yards for a touchdown and it got called back. Then [Keith] Gavin got it and went about 80 [yards]. Even a year ago in their bowl game, they were struggling a little bit, and got a kickoff return for a touchdown and it ended up helping them win the game.”

Richt’s area of expertise is offense, and he feels he has his hands full with FSU’s defense.

“You have to start with their big men – [Derrick] Nnadi, [Demarcus] Christmas, [Josh] Sweat, [Brian] Burns,”  he said. “There’s more in there. They roll them around pretty good. Nnadi and Christmas have both played over 30 games in their career. Nnadi is at almost 40 games. They’re just big, physical, strong guys. They’ve got the great edge rushers in Sweat and Burns. [Matthew] Thomas and [Ro’Derrick] Hoskins at linebacker, very talented guys. Thomas has 20 tackles so far and had 10 in the Wake Forest game alone. Great speed guy at the linebacker position.

“You can’t hardly go through the defense without talk about Derwin James. Two years ago, he had 91 tackles and was an All-American and of course didn’t play a whole lot last year. This year he already has 18 tackles and two pass breakups. He’s playing well. [Tavarus] McFadden, a great cover guy. Last year, [he had] eight interceptions and he’s the guy that they’ll probably put on who they think is our best receiver.”

He’s glad he’s not in Jimbo Fisher’s shoes. 

The last time FSU started a freshman quarterback, 1985, Richt was a 25-year-old volunteer assistant tutoring youngster Chip Ferguson.

“I was such a young coach, I didn’t know it was that big of a deal,” Richt said. “He was so young of a quarterback, he didn’t know it was a big deal. We just kind of blindly went through coaching and playing. We didn’t think much about it.”

Fisher is trying to save FSU’s season by getting Glades Central High grad James Blackman up to speed.  Richt, on that challenge:

“I think that whether a guy is a true freshman or not, he has a certain amount of knowledge of what you’re doing, and so you play to that. He has a certain skillset, you have to play to that. It’s true whether you’ve got a young guy or a veteran guy. But I couldn’t tell you how much Coach Fisher thinks that [James Blackman] has grasped at this point. Coach Fisher has a lot of things he can do offensively that he has done. He has a wealth of experience – years and years of experience. So I doubt that Blackman has every single thing down pat, so he has to decide, what does he really understand well and what are we going to try to execute? And then go for it. I’m sure they’re going to try, like any game, to have a great running game, because we know the running game for us, or for them, has been monumental in who wins the game. And also it’s very helpful to a quarterback to have a good running game.”

“If I was working with [Cade] Weldon or N’Kosi [Perry] right now, it would be the same answer – you have to figure out, what do they really understand well? What do they have enough reps at to expect them to have success in a game and react properly in the game? You have to measure that. You do the same thing with a veteran quarterback, but. I’ll say this – there’s not much that we’ve tried to install over the last year and a half that Malik doesn’t really understand well. The problems that are created are when you get a defensive lineman to whip your guard – then you have a problem. So the scheme might be good, but you have to execute.”

A parting thought: 

“The bottom line is we’re trying to win the Coastal [Division],” Richt said. “This game counts. When you have your goals set, your goal is to end up In Charlotte and play for the [ACC] Championship Game and win it. That’s what you set your sights on. But in order to do it, you have to have the best record in the league. This is a league game and that means a lot from the get-go. But we all know that it’s a rivalry game.

“Rivalry games are important. They’re better rivalries when there’s some winning and losing on both sides, and that hasn’t happened lately.”


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