University of Miami

No. 14 Miami opens brutal October with first ACC game at Georgia Tech

UM head coach Mark Richt watches the Hurricanes play on Saturday, September 3, 2016.
UM head coach Mark Richt watches the Hurricanes play on Saturday, September 3, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The last time Mark Richt was at Bobby Dodd Stadium, on Nov. 28, 2015, he beat Georgia Tech for the 13th time as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.

The following morning he was fired.

“It’s a tough part of the business,” Richt said this week, “but we all know it can happen. … We still do it because we love it.”

The next time Richt will be at Bobby Dodd Stadium is at noon Saturday, when he will lead the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes (3-0) against the Yellow Jackets (3-1) in UM’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener.

Richt has never lost to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where he was 8-0 as the Bulldogs coach. He was 13-2 overall during his reign at Georgia.

Will it be “weird’’ returning to the state he called home for so many years?

“Not to me,” Richt said during this week’s ACC coaches’ teleconference. “I’ve been there when I was at Florida State coaching, I’ve been there when I was at Georgia and now I’m going there while I’m at Miami.

“I don’t know if ‘weird’ is the word.”

With his family from Athens in the stands, the coach will try to make it 9-0 in Atlanta. His Hurricanes will also try to make it seven victories in the past eight years over Georgia Tech. But that 28-17 UM loss in 2014 sent many of the 52,000-plus Tech fans onto the field for a raucus celebration, and Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya and receiver Braxton Berrios are still irritated by the outcome.

The run-crazy, triple-option offense of the Yellow Jackets resulted in Tech holding the ball more than twice as long as the Hurricanes — 40:45 to 19:15.

“Yeah, it gives us a whole lot of motivation,’’ Kaaya said. “The last time we went up there they embarrassed us. They kept our offense off the field. I think we had five possessions. We turned the ball over two or three times — just embarrassed us on national television.’’

Georgia Tech has plenty of motivation itself after getting manhandled on Sept. 22 in Atlanta by No. 5 Clemson, 26-7, in a Thursday night ESPN game.

The Yellow Jackets were limited to 124 yards of offense, their lowest production since coach Paul Johnson took over in 2008.

“We played as poorly offensively as any team I’ve ever coached,’’ said Johnson, adding that the Yellow Jackets will “play better” against Miami. “We’re back to basics, and we’re going to do what we do.’’

And what they do, and usually do it well, is run, run, run with an offensive attack expected to significantly challenge UM’s young defense — especially its three freshman linebackers.

“The speed with which the offense will appear to them in the first quarter will take some getting used to,’’ Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “It took us getting used to the speed of [Appalachian] State’s offense, and the way we played the run in the second half was dramatically different than the way we played the run in the first half.”

Johnson is so masterful at coaching the triple option that the Yellow Jackets can befuddle a defense quickly.

“You say, ‘This guy’s got dive, this guy’s got quarterback, that guy’s [got] pitch,’ ’’ Diaz said. “They can block your guy that has dive, so then the next guy has to have dive. They can block your quarterback, so now somebody else has to have quarterback.

“They’ve been doing it so long there’s not a defense you can throw at them that they haven’t seen.’’

The long, tedious drives of Georgia Tech can lull defensive backs to sleep — just when quarterback Justin Thomas launches a long one. The Yellow Jackets are fourth nationally in passing yards per completion (18).

Equally important Saturday: With the Yellow Jackets eating up the clock on offense, the Hurricanes need to capitalize on their own opportunities, which usually diminish considerably against this team.

“It comes down to, when we get the ball we’ve got to make it count,’’ Berrios said. “We’ve got to be efficient, we’ve got to be effective, we’ve got to score when we get the ball. We can’t have dumb penalties that put us behind the sticks.”

Kaaya, like his coaches, is pleased with the direction the season is heading. But with a tough October on the horizon — Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame — he’s quick to point out that the Canes “haven’t really done anything yet.’’

“It’s cool that we’re ranked high,’’ Kaaya said. “It’s cool that we’re 3-0. But the season pretty much starts now. The last three weeks, all those wins were supposed to happen. Right now is where things get real. This is where the real meat of the season starts.’’

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