Barry Jackson

Richt ‘came back to the U for this kind of game’

UM coach Mark Richt
UM coach Mark Richt

A six-pack of Canes football notes on a Thursday, plus a bonus basketball item:

• Mark Richt, 16-4 and winner of 12 in a row through 20 games of his UM tenure, has been through enough big games that he isn’t prone to hyperbole. But he isn’t underselling the importance of Saturday’s Virginia Tech game to his players, not branding this as just another game.

“I told the team I came back to the U for this kind of game,” he told WQAM’s Joe Zagacki and Don Bailey Jr. on Hurricane Hotline. “You came to the U for this kind of game. We have put ourselves in position for this moment. We need to seize the moment.

“We’re playing a really good team. These guys are excellent. [Retired coach Frank] Beamer had a wonderful program. [New coach] Justin Fuentes is the real deal as a coach, has taken what Frank had to fit his style, but he had a lot of good pieces in place and they are recruiting well. It’s a wonderful place to be to play football [Blacksburg, Va.]. We’re playing a team that’s highly motivated and very talented and well coached. It’s going to be an unbelievable challenge for us.”

• If you missed this, Artur Sitkowski, rated the sixth best quarterback in the 2018 class by Rivals, decommitted from UM and flipped to Rutgers. Sitkowski, from New Jersey, is playing at IMG Academy in Bradenton this season.

Miami coach Mark Richt reflects on victory over UNC on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017.

“I want to thank Coach Richt and his staff for believing in me, giving me an opportunity to play football at the next level, as well as their continuous support,” Sitkowski said. “I’ve had many sleepless and thoughful nights throughout this process and I’m ready to turn a new page for the next chapter in my life. In my heart I believe that I cannot let the opportunity to play for my `Hometown School’ slip past me. I believe in this program and I am announcing today my commitment to Rutgers University.”

Sitkowski told Rivals’ Adam Friedman: “I just wanted to come home and build the program. We’re going to keep in-state talent at home and build a future for Rutgers.”

This is no slight at Sitkowski, but I don’t regard this as an enormous loss for UM, because if N’Kosi Perry is as good as advertised, Sitkowski might not have played more than one year at UM. And the Hurricanes have the cache to land another high-end quarterback in the next couple of years.

• One reason why Richt really appreciates linebacker Shaquille Quarterman – beyond his high-level performance – is this:

“He loves the game, he loves chasing the ghost of the past,” Richt said. “He understands the tradition of the Miami defense and the tradition of the linebacker position at the U and what it should look like. That’s what drives him to be as great as the greatest players to play college football. That’s a tall order.”

UM quarterback Malik Rosier discusses UNC on Oct. 25, 2017.

• UM privately believes freshmen defensive ends Jon Garvin and Deonte Johnson have first-round draft pick potential.

“DJ Johnson comes all the way from Sacramento because he’s watched enough 30 for 30s that he wants to be one of those guys,” Richt said, referring to Johnson’s comments that he watched the two 30 for 30 films on UM. “He’s going to be one of those guys.”

Said defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski: “We have four defensive ends that I feel are playing like starters, we have three defensive tackles I feel are playing like starters, another defensive tackle who is a supreme backup. We have three freshmen (DJ Johnson, Jon Garvin, [tackle] Jon Ford) that have potential to be superstars someday, certainly are not at this time.

“But they all are very, very good prospects and have done a good job when they’ve been able to get in a game. The top two is so tough to crack for these guys - last year if we were in the same situation these guys would have been playing, all the freshmen would have been playing a lot, probably starting a couple of games.

• Among the reasons Richt really likes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: “Our defense has always been really good disguising their formations. It’s tough to tell what they’re in pre snap [during practice]. The way coach Diaz has been disguising things has been great.

“Manny knows what a Miami defense should look like. Manny saw it growing up. He knows what it looks like. He and the staff have done a wonderful job getting the guys starting to play like that.”

Diaz has made the point that some of UM’s defensive stats can be misleading. One example:

UM is ranked sixth in the ACC in pass defense, yielding 197.7 per game. But UM is ranked first in the ACC and third nationally in passing efficiency defense, which takes into account lots of other factors. All four remaining Power 5 unbeatens are in the top 10 (Wisconsin first, Alabama sixth, Georgia eighth). The top 10 teams in passing efficiency defense have an overall record of 60-12.

• Defensive end Chad Thomas, the only remaining five-star player in the program, has a chance to end his senior year with his most impactful month over his final five to six games. His stats are modest (16 tackles, seven for loss, two sacks), but UM says he’s doing exactly what Miami needs from him.

“I am so proud of Chad,” Richt told Zagacki and Bailey. “This guy is so locked into wanting to be great.”

Richt, incidentally, has had Bennie Blades and Russell Maryland speak to players in recent weeks.

• New 5-6 UM point guard Chris Lykes is going to be really fun to watch. Has he felt underestimated because of his size?

“Definitely,” said Lykes, who will be used off the bench this season. “It’s not going to change. Whatever level I get to, it’s not going to change. People have been doubting me since middle school. I am looking forward to the challenge. I love proving people wrong.”

How is his height an advantage? “I am lower to the ground,” he said. “I feel I am in the top tier when it comes to speed, going off the dribble. Guys don’t like shorter guards who are under them when they’re dribbling. It would make me uncomfortable if I had someone pressuring me at all time. I’m going to use my size as an advantage. I’m not grounded. I can get up there with those guys.”

Lykes said he picked Miami because “there have been a lot of guards here under six foot, most recently Shane Larkin. They use a lot of ball screens. Ball screens in college will help me make plays. I feel the coaching staff here really believes in me and my abilities. Coach [Jim] Larranaga tells me every day he feels my size is an advantage and never look at it as a disadvantage. Hearing that from him makes me feel confident about myself, and I appreciate it.”

Lykes, who committed to UM before five-star guard Lonnie Walker did, said: “I tried to do everything I could to sell Miami as a school for him. I guess it worked out. I committed way earlier. When he committed, I tried to even take credit for it.

“His athleticism and his ability to shoot the ball [are excellent]. His first step is really quick. He can pump fake and get by you. His defensive potential is off the charts. I’m really glad to be playing with him.”

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