Mark Richt will return Saturday to the site where he once served as offensive coordinator, and despite his former Florida State Seminoles being unranked and having a losing record (1-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), he said he knows the program will be ‘ready to go’ to face his No. 13 Miami Hurricanes (3-0, 1-0) in Tallahassee at 3:30 p.m.
The Canes open the week a three-point favorite against the Noles.
“We’re just excited to play,’’ Richt told WQAM’s Joe Rose during his weekly radio stint with UM’s flagship station. “You work so hard for these kind of moments and we’re looking forward to going there and playing a great game. We know there’s nothing changed about their defense. They’re unbelievable in that regard.’’
Richt praised FSU true freshman quarterback James Blackman, forced to take over for returning star and ACC Rookie of the Year Deondre Francois, who threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016 but sustained a season-ending knee injury late in the opener against Alabama.
When it appeared FSU might go down to Wake Forest this past Saturday, Blackman threw what turned out to be the game-winning, 40-yard touchdown pass to Auden Tate with 54 seconds left.
“There’s nothing changed about anything other than they’re breaking in a young quarterback who’s getting better every snap,’’ Richt told WQAM. “Even the way he finished the game – throwing that touchdown pass when they needed it the most had to be great for his confidence and everybody else’s confidence in him, so they’ll be ready to go and we will too.”
So, will the Canes do anything differently for FSU?
“I think you’ve just got to get them to focus on what really does matter and that’s their job and how you go about doing it, just playing hard and physical and not turning the ball over and playing the whole game,’’ Richt said.
“And knowing that things may start out good, it doesn’t matter. Things may turn out bad, it doesn’t matter.
“You’ve got to play the full 60 minutes and do what you have to do to finish. Guys got to make plays when they present themselves. You don’t have to make a spectacular play. But if you’re running the slant route and somebody is all over you and the ball hits you in the hands, you’ve got to make the play. Or, the DB has got to rake the ball out...
“When it’s time for you to make the play, make it.’’
Speaking of making plays, Richt, when asked by Rose about the coveted gold turnover chain that is given to defensive players while they sit on the bench after creating a turnover, said sophomore defensive tackle Pat Bethel should have “gotten to wear the chain twice’’ on Saturday.
During UM’s 31-6 victory over Duke, Bethel not only forced the Blue Devils’ quarterback to fumble, he then got up and ran to the ball and recovered it.
“The play Bethel made, he should have gotten to wear the chain twice,’’ Richt said, “because he knocks the ball out and as he’s tackling the quarterback and everybody’s trying to get the ball, well, he has the presence of mind to get up and hustle over there just in case. And sure enough, he’s the last guy over there because he had already tackled the quarterback to the ground.
“He got up, sprinted over to the pile and then there it was, he jumped on the ball. So he not only knocked it out but he landed on it. Just a great play by Pat.’’
Richt agreed that the turnover chain is “a lot of fun,’’ but as he did last week, he stressed that his players must keep their helmets on as they run off the field in excited anticipation of earning the turnover chain. Though the officials must not have noticed, linebacker Michael Pinckney, who had an outstanding game Saturday, took off his helmet before he got to the sideline to be awarded the chain.
Last week, UM safety Sheldrick Redwine recovered a fumble and was penalized when he removed his helmet before reaching the sideline, where the turnover chain was draped around his neck.
“I think I mentioned before, our biggest problem is keeping our kids to keep their helmet on until they get to the sideline,’’ Richt said. “You pop it off on the field – it happened again.’’
Be assured that UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz this week will be reminding his players repeatedly about the problem.