That may be the best word to describe the No. 11 Miami Hurricanes’ season so far. First, a three week delay because of Hurricane Irma, then a win over Florida State and now the slew of injuries hitting the team. Clearly, the Canes have had plenty of ups and downs coming into week seven.
But regardless, UM is undefeated, and next on the list of opponents is the 3-1 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a team that features the unique triple-option offense – a method where there are three threats to run the football on every play.
Coming off its first victory over rival Florida State in eight years, Miami will be without a handful of its stars when it faces off against Georgia Tech.
Workhorse running back Mark Walton is out for the year after undergoing ankle surgery, and starting offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson, and defensive backs Dee Delaney and Sheldrick Redwine will all be out as well.
Knowing he will be without two veteran presences in the backfield of Miami’s defense, UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has the challenging task of preparing his younger defensive playmakers.
“They’re learning on the fly,” Diaz said. “They have to make sure they’re looking at the right thing and making the right reads. That’s really the key thing in this game. They have to be on the same page.”
The Canes will have their hands full with the Yellow Jackets’ quarterback-running back combo of TaQuon Marshall, who leads the ACC with 523 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and Kirvonte Benson.
G-Tech is averaging 396 rushing yards per game – the highest number in the conference – and has rushed for over 400 in its past three games. The Yellow Jackets are on pace to break the all-time ACC single season mark for rushing yards per game, which they set in 2014.
Marshall and Benson each have more than 450 yards rushing in 2017. The only other quarterback-running back pair in the country with these numbers is the combination of Jalen Hurts and Damien Harris at Alabama – the No. 1-ranked school in the nation.
“It’s about explosive plays, which is really their greatest threat,” Diaz said about the up-tempo offense of Georgia Tech. “Tackling is super important. Our secondary was outstanding tackling in that game a year ago, and will have to be again. There’s very little margin for error.”
The Hurricanes have been paying extra attention to detail this week in practice and are emphasizing the need to make plays.
“We are going to have to make tackles,” junior safety Jaquan Johnson said. “We are going to have to read our [coverages]and make the tackle when the ball spits into open field. They do a lot of things with the quarterback to make you get your eyes off your [coverage], but if you keep your focus on your man, you should be fine.”
Miami will also have to monitor All-ACC wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, whose status has been ruled as “questionable” to play this week because of a nagging hamstring injury.
Senior receiver Braxton Berrios, who was wearing a green non-contact uniform during practice, did not appear on Miami’s weekly injury report.
With Richards’ status up in the air, redshirt junior wide receiver Darrell Langham could see more snaps after making the game-winning catch against Florida State.
“Obviously he made a huge play at the end of the game, but every single day, they have to earn the right play on the football field,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said about Langham. “He’s been in and out of the lineup so far, but he’s done a really good job of moving on past that glorious moment and getting back to work.”
While the Canes have question marks on both sides of the ball, history lends itself well for Mark Richt, who is 14-2 against Georgia Tech in his head-coaching career.
However, that isn’t stopping the team from remaining focused.
“Last year is last year, it’s in the past,” sophomore defensive end Joe Jackson said. “We need to come out and play these guys aggressive and do everything we can to stop them so their offense doesn’t get going, because if it does, it’s going to be hard to stop them.”
Miami has won its first four games of the season, but it continues to have its eyes set on a bigger goal.
“Everyone has to have the right mentality that we are coming out here to work hard and get better, not to celebrate that we beat Florida State,” senior offensive lineman Kc McDermott said. “We beat Florida State, now it’s time to go win the Coastal.”