One of the priorities in Mark Richt’s nine months on the job has been to make this UM team tougher –physically and mentally – after the Hurricanes wilted several times in the second half of games during the Al Golden era.
That’s why new strength coach Gus Felder would have his players tug on ropes even after lifting weights for an hour. Driving players to fatigue is the expression used by UM’s Joel Rodriguez.
With UM’s depth depleted by injuries and suspension, the Hurricanes’ stamina will be tested – not only against quality teams, but also against teams that play an up-tempo offense like Saturday’s opponent, Florida Atlantic.
"The team this week presents a challenge because of their tempo,” UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “A fast-tempo offense tries to zap your effort, zap your energy, zap your toughness with their tempo to try and get you tired out. They will be one of the fastest [paced] teams we play all year."
UM already has lost defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (dismissed) and linebackers Jermaine Grace (dismissed) and Jamie Gordinier (season-ending knee injury last Saturday).
What’s more, defensive end Scott Patchan isn’t ready to return from a torn ACL. And linebacker Darrion Owens (who didn’t play last Saturday) is still working his way back from major knee surgery, while freshman Tyreic Martin is still healing from a knee injury.
Also, defensive tackles Courtel Jenkins and Anthony Moten are questionable for Saturday because of injuries. And don’t forget defensive end Trent Harris is playing with a large wrap on his broken hand.
"I don't know what he'll have on there Saturday, but it still comes down to Trent is a tough guy, has a lot of heart, determination," Diaz said. "He'll give us what he has."
Richt said of Harris playing with a club on his hand: “You get used to it, but it's definitely not natural. I've seen a lot of guys play with the club over the last 30 or so years. I remember one time, this was way back when I was at Florida State and Coach Bowden saw this defensive back with a club on his hand and he said, 'We have to throw the ball at that guy.'
“So no matter what, we were trying to find the guy with the club and throw it to him, because he had only had one hand. He had two picks that day. I don't know if it's that big of a disadvantage or not."
Even so, Diaz said he still will substitute liberally.
"We have to have guys share snaps for us to succeed," Diaz said. "Everyone has a role to play and everyone has to play."
So who’s left among fully healthy scholarship players?
Richard McIntosh, Kendrick Norton, Gerald Willis (suspended last week) and Ryan Fines at defensive tackle, and Chad Thomas, Demetrius Jackson, Joe Jackson and Pat Bethel at defensive end.
Of Willis, Diaz said: "If he plays really hard and tackles well we'll be pleased with him."
And of Fines, Diaz said: "He went out there and played good snaps, and we can't play without him. Got to have guys like that.
At linebacker, there are the three freshmen starters (Shaquille Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Mike Pinckney), with a few even more unproven players behind them (led by Charles Perry).
“We don't have much left; everybody that plays that linebacker position will get tested," Richt said.
Meanwhile, safety Jaquan Johnson continues to work as a SAM linebacker, in Grace’s old spot.
"It all depends what you're getting formationally," Diaz said. "We worked him in that position a week ago and didn't end up using him. It gives us the flexibility to be able to adapt to what teams are doing."
• Richt, on his three freshmen receivers:
On Sam Bruce: "Great practice player. Works hard. Brings a lot of energy. He's not getting as many reps as the other guys, so he's fresher. But when he gets his reps, he's going full-speed. He looks like a player. I would hope, by the time he gets in position to be in the game, that he'll know enough to play. I would think we'll be integrating him into the plan. Hopefully, where we'd feel comfortable, is he knows it all. But if not, we'll pick and choose some spots for him. He'll play."
On Dionte Mullins: "He's still learning. He does not know all the plays, to the point where I can just call a game and not worry about him. If he's in the game, I have to know and take care of him a little bit. And that's last Saturday. He'll get better this Saturday. Somewhere along the line, when we feel comfortable that he knows what to do, he'll play. Because he has got the ability."
On Ahmmon Richards: “He… blocked as well as anybody - for a true freshman to come in and really embrace that at the receiver position is like a true freshman running back understanding how to pass protect," Richt said.