Playing the role of underdog is easy. The motivation to win is innate because no one or very few believe you’re going to be successful. Teams really buy into the cliché narrative of “us against the world”.
Miami has been playing and reveling in an “underdog” role over the past couple of weeks. The Hurricanes were doubted by some over the past two weeks and they used that skepticism – or “hate” – as motivation to fuel back to back impressive wins against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
Now, the undefeated Canes have risen to No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings (No. 2 in the AP and Coaches polls), and have been declared “back”.
Back in the limelight and back in the driver’s seat of their own destiny.
Still, no matter much of a national phenomenon the “Turnover Chain” becomes, the Canes cannot lose sight of what still lies before them – a chance to win the ACC championship and earn the right to play in the College Football Playoff.
When UM takes the field at Hard Rock Stadium for the final time this season Saturday against Virginia, it won’t only be staving off the Cavaliers – who would want nothing more than to play spoiler – it will also be fighting against complacency.
Miami head coach Mark Richt said he challenged his team with one simple question.
“I asked them, ‘Can you handle any prosperity?’,” Richt told reporters Tuesday.
“Last week I think you might have asked the question about players feeling like they were disrespected. All I did was take the video of the television copy of people making predictions. Most everybody predicted Notre Dame and some of them said why they predicted Notre Dame. Some of the ‘whys’ got their blood pumping. When I saw it, I’m like, ‘I think I’m going to show the guys this.’ Just collect them all and show them a copy of it. I think guys play better ball when they’re a little bit mad.”
But Miami has started to receive plenty of love from the national media following its 41-8 drubbing of the Fighting Irish.
“If I did a video of what’s going on now, it would be everybody saying, ‘Gosh, Miami is not so bad after all’ and all that kind of stuff,” Richt said. “Can they handle that? I’m not going to be showing videos of that, I can promise you.”
The “love” that the Hurricanes have received recently should be taken for what it is: respect earned by a team that has met and now far exceeded original expectations.
The Canes defense has looked like a national championship-caliber group – being among the country’s leaders in takeaways and setting a new trend with its “Turnover Chain”.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, a leading candidate to earn the Broyles Award (college football’s top assistant coach), has gotten the most out of Miami’s defense – using a combination of seasoned veterans up front while mixing in underclassmen in the defensive backfield.
Sophomore defensive end Joe Jackson said dominant defensive performances are a result of a commitment to “the process”.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while. We’re just putting the work in every day and the results are what you see now. It’s just a lot of hard work,” Jackson said. “I’m amazed but not that amazed. We have to keep pushing because we’re trying to have a big season and win a national championship.”
“The mindset doesn’t change. It’s come in, get the work in, go play and win. That’s our mindset every day – day in and day out. We have a target on our back…that’s what we want. Either way, the outcome is going to be the same, we’re going to grind we’re going to grind, we’re going to come out to play, we’re going to fight and we’re going to punch you in the mouth.”
Still Work To Do
There still are some carrots that Miami coaches can dangle out in front of players over the next three weeks.
It should be understood by players and Hurricanes fans, that a loss in the next two weeks – to either Virginia (6-4) or Pittsburgh (4-6) – would be the ammunition that national pundits need to put Miami down. It would also all but dash the Canes’ hopes of making the college football final four.
“The same guys that were telling us how bad we were for the last two weeks with no shot to beat Virginia Tech and no shot to beat Notre Dame are now saying how great we are. We ignored it then and we’ll ignore it now. We’re just going to keep our heads down, keep grinding and keeping earning the right to win,” said Canes offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
Also, winning the 2017 ACC Coastal Division title is a major feather in Miami’s cap, since it had not completed that feat since joining the conference in 2004.
No matter what happens over the next two weeks, the Hurricanes have a Dec. 2 date with Clemson in the ACC Championship game.
Miami should revel in the fact that the opening line for that game has it as a 5-point underdog to the defending ACC and National Champion Tigers.
UM sophomore linebacker Michael Pinckney knows Miami can’t afford to overlook any of its remaining opponents.
“We’re just trying to get better every week. We just come out every week, we can’t take anyone lightly,” Pinckney said. “We got great things ahead. I just feel like we have to come out this weekend and take Virginia no lighter than we took Notre Dame.”
Harris & Stavetski Added To Injury Report
Miami released its injury report ahead of Saturday’s game against Virginia and two players were officially added to the list of Canes that are out for the season.
Junior linebacker Charles Perry was added to the list after the school announced earlier this week with a “left lower extremity” that he sustained in the UM’s 41-8 win over Notre Dame.
Perry, a Royal Palm Beach High School alum, posted 15 tackles and one interception in nine games this season – playing as a backup to Zach McCloud and on special teams.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Perry joins a list that already included junior running back Mark Walton (ankle), Redshirt junior defensive end Demetrius Jackson – who had season-ending knee surgery on November 6th – freshman receiver Evidence Njoku (knee) and linebacker Jamie Gordinier (knee).
Walk-on defensive back Terry Stavetski was also on Miami’s injury report with an undisclosed injury.
Herndon Named Mackey Award Semifinalist
Miami senior tight end Christopher Herndon was named a semifinalist for the 2017 Mackey Award, which honors the country’s top tight end.
The 6-foot-4, 252-pound Herndon has enjoyed a breakout season, setting new career-highs in receptions (36), receiving yards (422) and touchdowns (4) through nine games this year.
Over his four-year career at Miami, Herndon has caught 82 passes for 993 yards and seven touchdowns. He is looking to become the second Miami tight end to ever win the Mackey Award, joining Kellen Winslow II (2003).
Kickoff Set For Pittsburgh Game
The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Monday that Miami’s November 24 game at Pittsburgh will kick off at 12 noon.
The game will be played at Heinz Field and will be televised on ABC, the day after Thanksgiving.