University of Miami football coach Mark Richt did not make his underclassmen available to the media this week.
The seniors, Richt figured, deserved their due.
Now he’s asking the fans to honor them, too.
As UM gets ready for its final kickoff of the regular season — a 3:30 p.m. home start Saturday against Duke — Richt is imploring fans to show up to Hard Rock Stadium for Senior Day.
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If the 15-point-favorite Hurricanes (7-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) defeat the Blue Devils (4-7, 1-6), those fans will have watched Miami do what it hasn’t done since 2002: win its last four regular-season games.
“I’ve heard, and I believe it, [that] we’ve had over 50,000 fans in each of our home games this year,” Richt said. “Miami has never had a season where there were 50,000 for every game.
“Let’s get over 50,000 in this game and set a record.’’
UM will honor 18 scholarship and walk-on seniors, and the ones who spoke this week insisted they consider Duke on par with every other opponent this season.
“We’re looking at them like they’re the best team in the country,’’ said senior Alex Gall, who will get his third start at center.
Gall was asked this week about the ending of last year’s UM game at Duke, where Miami’s eight-lateral kickoff return on the final play resulted in the controversial game-winning touchdown.
“That was wild,’’ Gall said, calling it “a miracle play and something that will be remembered in history.’’
Duke coach David Cutcliffe pretty much avoided the subject Tuesday, though it was brought up 16 1/2 minutes into his 17-plus-minute news conference.
“Have you heard any comments from your players leading into this game about last year’s finish to the Miami game?” a reporter asked.
“Not a word,’’ Cutcliffe said. “It’s just so far removed and far from your mind. We’ve got a lot of problems to solve right now. Totally focused on this Miami team and our team. That’s the first really I think that I’ve even heard about it this week.”
The Blue Devils have gotten blown out of only one game this season — last week’s 56-14 loss to Pittsburgh. They defeated North Carolina 28-27 and Notre Dame 38-35, two teams that beat the Hurricanes.
“The focus to us should be pretty obvious,’’ Cutcliffe said. “It’s responding to playing a poor football game. We’ve talked enough about it. We’ve dissected it. There are always multitudes of reasons why. Your focus is on the response.”
Said Richt: “All I know is they beat two teams we couldn’t beat. So they’ve got my respect.’’
Although the underclassmen were barred from interviews during the week, a couple youngsters acknowledged after the victory last Saturday at North Carolina State that this final home game would be for their mentors. As special as several of the freshmen have proven to be this season, they know who paved their path to get this far.
Ahmmon Richards, who had just broken Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old single-season freshman receiving yards record, noted that, yes, “this one is going to have a little more juice to it.”
“I feel like everyone is going to be energized and pumped up to play and send them out the right way,’’ Richards said of the seniors.
“It’s a really big deal to me,’’ agreed freshman middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, who leads the team in tackles with 69. “Just coming in and getting to meet those guys — they’re such great guys. Where they started from to where they finished at, I just want to send them off right.’’
Quarterback Brad Kaaya, who needs 276 yards to move past former Hurricanes great Ken Dorsey and become the all-time Miami career passing yards leader (Dorsey had 9,565 yards), called this last home game “huge’’ because of “these seniors and all that they’ve been through.’’
“They’ve been through a lot and put in a lot of hard work these last four years,’’ Kaaya said. “Really, the day is all about them. Send those guys off the right way.’’
Senior safety Jamal Carter called the prospect of his final home game Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium “crazy.’’
“I’m going to miss playing with the young bucks, playing with the guys I came in with. I’m going to miss those guys and definitely going to make the best of it this whole week,’’ Carter said Tuesday. “I’m glad I got this year in with this coaching staff. It was a great year.’’