In the three seasons leading to last year’s Georgia Tech game, the University of Miami had two defensive touchdowns.
Then, in less time than it takes for a good tooth-brushing, Hurricanes linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and defensive end Joe Jackson, both freshmen, scored a touchdown apiece only 46 seconds apart to help lead Miami to its seventh victory in eight years against the Yellow Jackets.
One season later, those two grown-up Hurricanes will be part of the defense at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC) that attempts to hold Georgia Tech’s prolific, triple-option ground game at Hard Rock Stadium. They know that in order for UM’s offense to make some noise of its own, the Yellow Jackets’ offense, which leads the nation in time of possession, needs to get off the field.
The No. 11 Hurricanes (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will take on Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0) in a crucial Coastal Division matchup to determine who leaves the game alone in first place.
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“I just tell them, ‘Be prepared for anything, because that’s what you gotta be prepared for when you play Georgia Tech,’’’ Jackson said he advised the less experienced UM defenders, who will be without injured starting cornerback Dee Delaney (knee) and starting safety Sheldrick Redwine (upper extremity) — two of at least four injured starters ruled out for Saturday.
UM also will be battling without one of the the best running backs in the country, as former backup Travis Homer starts in place of Mark Walton, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury last week in Miami’s victory at Florida State.
On the same play, UM starting right guard Navaughn Donaldson sprained his ankle and will miss Saturday’s game.
“I’ve seen that he’s taken it with honor,’’ Quarterman said of Homer, who dominates on special teams (though those duties will be cut in half this week) and has been impressive with his opportunities on offense. “I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do, stepping into Mark’s shoes. He doesn’t look that tall, but he has the speed to break away from you and he is physical. He’s not one of the guys that always wants to juke you. He’ll lower the shoulder on you. We love that.”
Homer, a 5-11, 195-pound sophomore, has run for 207 yards and three touchdowns this season on 25 carries for an outstanding 8.3-yards-a-carry average. He also has caught five passes for 71 yards (14.2 yards a catch).
“Travis is a very serious young man,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said. “He’s very business-like. He knows what to do. He knows how to do it. He’s in unbelievable condition.’’
With Georgia Tech averaging nearly 37 minutes a game on offense, and UM averaging a bit over 25 minutes, the Hurricanes’ offense need to take advantage of every series.
The Yellow Jackets’ under-publicized defense is ranked sixth in the nation, allowing an average of 260 yards a game (158 passing and 102 rushing) and only 19 point a game.
“It’s frustrating,’’ Berrios said. “We only do it one time a year, so you’ll never get used to it. When we get out there we have to be effective, we have to be efficient, we have to make sure we put points on the board.”
Georgia Tech, despite being on the road, has had two weeks to prepare for UM after three consecutive victories preceded by a double-overtime loss to Tennessee in the season opener.
Richt knows all about the Yellow Jackets, going 13-2 against them as the former Georgia coach, before he notched victory No. 14 last season with Miami.
“If I was a defensive coordinator and the guy that was year after year dealing with that from a defensive standpoint, maybe it would be some type of advantage,’’ said Richt, who calls UM’s offense. “…It’s more on Manny Diaz…and I trust him with it.’’
Diaz, UM’s defensive coordinator, would savor another defensive touchdown, which would be UM’s first this season. But getting his guys to be disciplined and focused on this once-a-year offense is a task in itself.
“They force you to defend the whole field… sideline to sideline,’’ Diaz said. “So any breach, whether it’s a missed tackle or missed fit in the run game, it’s harder to get that thing on the ground. What you have to do and what it ultimately comes down to is their blocking vs. our ability to whip a block, and then our tackling vs. their ability to break a tackle.
“In some ways, it’s as old school as it gets.’’
Saturday: Georgia Tech at No. 11 Miami
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.; Hard Rock Stadium.
TV/radio: ABC; WQAM 560; WMEN 640; 990 ESPN Deportes
Favorite: Miami by 6 1/2.
Records: Miami 4-0 (2-0 ACC); Georgia Tech 3-1 (2-0 ACC).
Series: Tied 11-11.
Miami injuries: Questionable — WR Ahmmon Richards (hamstring). Out — DB Dee Delaney (knee); OL Navaughn Donaldson (ankle); DB Sheldrick Redwine (upper extremity); RB Mark Walton (ankle).
Georgia Tech injuries: Out — OL Andrew Marshall (leg); OL Brad Morgan (upper body); LB David Curry (leg); OL Scott Morgan (undisclosed).