Greg Cote

Master motivators Richt and Diaz — the Mark ’n Manny Show — are why Canes are 9-0

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, inventor of the Turnover Chain, has proved a master motivator for 9-0 UM in tandem with coach Mark Richt.
Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, inventor of the Turnover Chain, has proved a master motivator for 9-0 UM in tandem with coach Mark Richt. Miami Herald staff

Too much will be made of where the Miami Hurricanes land Tuesday in the new College Football Playoff rankings. Only will it be a big deal if UM somehow is unfathomably omitted from the top four, which would require an immediate sanity hearing or at least a Breathalyzer test for all 13 members of the CFP selection committee.

Alabama figures to be No. 1. But whether the Canes rise to second, third or fourth won't merit the dissection or outrage that follows. Why? Because from anywhere in the top four the Canes will be in position to control whether they have a chance to win the school's sixth national championship and first in 16 seasons.

And, yes, that goal need no longer be whispered because it seemed such a longshot. No team in Miami's path — including Nick Saban's Crimson Tide — is unbeatable. The UM we just watched beat Virginia Tech and Notre Dame by a combined 69-18 is capable of running the table and finishing 14-0.

It also is capable of stumbling. That could even happen the next two weeks as UM closes out the regular season Saturday at home vs. Virginia and Nov. 24 at Pitt.

This is the next great challenge for a Miami coaching staff and team that have risen to every occasion: To not let Virginia and Pitt get lost sandwiched in between the euphoria of Virginia Tech/ Notre Dame and the anticipation of the ACC/CFP postseason.

A letdown following the 41-8 masterwork over Notre Dame would be human nature. And Virginia arrives sneaky-dangerous. They are 6-3 and beat Georgia Tech more easily than Miami did. And UM is only 5-6 vs. the Cavaliers since 2006.

Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt talks to the media after defeating Notre Dame, 41-8, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, at Hard Rock Stadium.

A look-ahead to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game also would be human nature for Miami, but Pitt, only 4-6, can make its season with a shocking home upset to derail the Canes' dreams.

Virginia, Pitt and Clemson, UM's next three known opponents, all have defenses rated top 20 nationally in the red zone, and red-zone offense has been an issue for Miami.

So an upset could happen over the next two games. Now here is why it won't:

Mark Richt and Manny Diaz. The Mark 'n Manny Show!

Has South Florida ever seen a greater performance by any team's coaching combination than what big boss Richt and defensive coordinator Diaz have done this season?

Miami Hurricanes defensive back Trajan Bandy and Jaquan Johnson speak to the media about turnovers after the University of Miami Hurricanes host Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.

This UM team lost its career passing-yards leader Brad Kaaya to early NFL entry and lost No. 1 running back Mark Walton to an injury early in the season. Up in Tallahassee, the Seminoles lost their QB to injury and their top runner to the NFL, and it has crippled their season. But UM had Malik Rosier and Travis Homer to plug in — a hallmark of good recruiting and depth, the residue of great coaching.

Richt and Diaz also have shone in how they have motivated these Canes, which is why they'll find the right buttons to press so their guys aren't nonchalant against Virginia or Pitt.

It was Diaz who cooked up the Turnover Chain, which has become a genuine phenomenon, an instant part of The U's brand and lore. Has it worked? Has it inspired the defense that drives this 9-0 team? UM has forced 16 turnovers just in the past four games. The Fighting Irish had only seven turnovers all season before the bling-y Chain was worn four times Saturday night.

Canes coach Mark Richt, along with defensive chief Manny Diaz, have provided 9-0 UM one of the best seasons of coaching we have seen in South Florida in any sport. Miami Herald staff

It was Richt who dreamed up showing a video to his players before the Notre Dame game, a collection of the national media predicting Notre Dame would win, raving about the Irish's awesome offensive line. Richt was planting a none-too-subtle seed: “Everybody doubts us. Nobody believes.”

“All the disrespect we got,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman described the video. “The feeling that we were just overlooked constantly.”

The Miami Hurricanes celebrate their 41-8 victory over Notre Dame Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, at Hard Rock Stadium.

Said Richt: “Nobody really gave us much of a chance, and [the video] got everybody's blood boiling a little bit. We'll use whatever we need to motivate.”

Of course, disrespect will be an increasingly tougher card to play as the Canes move up into the rarefied air of the top four – College Football Playoff territory.

Then again, one surmises that the lure of what is now ahead and within reach — an ACC title and a national championship — will be motivation enough.

Manny Diaz, UM's football defensive coordinator, talks about the excitement in the community and fans returning to the Canes after their victory over Virginia Tech.

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