Just minutes after his team lost its third game in a row — the first loss to a Duke team in Miami in 42 years — University of Miami coach Mark Richt was asked if he were worried the Hurricanes might lose focus.
“I don’t know,’’ Richt said. “Our guys certainly know some of the goals that we set out for in the beginning are not really possible. I’m not even going to start trying to do any kind of math with the Coastal.
“Right now, we’re playing for pride. We just need to show that when things don’t go well, we don’t quit.’’
The Coastal Division title of the Atlantic Coast Conference, as Richt said, is nearly out of the realm of possibility for the Hurricanes (5-4, 2-3 ACC), who travel to Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3) for a 7 p.m. kickoff (ESPN2) Saturday in Atlanta.
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Is a bowl game, which so often has been taken for granted by everyone, the prize right now?
“The prize right now is to beat Georgia Tech, to be honest with you,’’ Richt replied Sunday during his weekly teleconference, adding that he has not made a decision on the starting quarterback, or basically any other starter, for Georgia Tech.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the best thing to do is in every possible situation, every position group,’’ Richt said. “But definitely, I want to put a premium on how we practice. We want to make sure we’re playing the guys that earn the right to play on a weekly basis, and that will be a big emphasis this week.’’
The coach indicated the one thing that won’t be an emphasis will be what the public posts on social media or through other forums about how angry and disappointed most are with the football program.
“Quite frankly, I don’t read that stuff,’’ Richt said. “I don’t pay attention to it, because it’s not productive. It’s not helpful. So, my mindset is to focus on these players, focus on these coaches, focus on trying to get better, focus on trying to get the right answers.’’
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 38-28 victory over North Carolina, and are having a “whiteout’’ for the Canes game, urging the crowd to wear all white. At this point that is about as inconsequential as it could get for Miami, which, like the Yellow Jackets, need one more victory to qualify for a bowl game.
The Hurricanes have beaten Georgia Tech eight out of the past nine years, losing during that stretch at Atlanta in 2014.
“Like I told those guys,’’ Richt said after Duke, “Georgia Tech’s not going to care that we haven’t won any of the last three games. They’re going to come after us. Every week’s a battle that you have to prepare for. If you don’t, it can get ugly. Right now, I have full faith and confidence that they’re going to bust heir tails and try to do the best they can for their teammates.’’
Defensive tackle Gerald Willis said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s message to his players Saturday was, ‘Just don’t break up. Stay together as a team.’ Something like this can break a team up, everybody doing their own things for themselves.
“Especially with my type of leadership. I already told them boys at the hotel, ‘I wish I had more games to play.’ I’ve got three more games left in a Miami uniform, a possibility of four. I just want y’all to keep having my back and keep going strong and just keep fighting.
“Take it one game at a time.’’
Said quarterback N’Kosi Perry: “We’re fighting to the end. We’ve got to play with pride.’’