Canes Set to Open ACC Play Against Georgia Tech
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Their non-conference schedule is behind them. So is their bye week.
On Saturday night when the Hurricanes return to Hard Rock Stadium, they’ll begin an eight-week marathon stretch of conference games that will determine their ACC fate.
But that stretch isn’t what Miami’s players and coaches are focused on right now. The mentality, as it has been all season, is to focus on the task – and opponent – at hand.
This week, that’s meant preparing for their ACC opener against a Georgia Tech team that features one of the conference’s top quarterbacks and has shown an ability to make big plays, despite a 2-3 start to the season.
“A team that we have a ton of respect for, that has played some really good football. I know they had a tough game this past weekend, but it’s not a reflection of what they are as a team and how we feel about them,” Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal said, referencing the Yellow Jackets’ 38-27 loss to Bowling Green last week. “Certainly, a team that deserves our respect. The teams they have beaten head-to-head – last year, they beat Duke, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh – and this year, against an excellent Wake Forest team, they did a great job.”
Added Miami receiver Xavier Restrepo, “Georgia Tech is a great team. It’s very, very hard to win in college football, as we’ve said multiple, multiple, multiple times. No matter who you [face], we’re just trying to lock in on our opponent, which is Georgia Tech this week, and I mean, again, they’re a very, very good team. Don’t let that fool you or anything like that. They’re a very, very talented team and they play very, very good football. We just have to play our best game.”
Through their first four games of the season, the 17th-ranked Hurricanes (4-0, 0-0 ACC) have played some solid football.
They’ve outscored their opponents 175-50. Their run defense is second in the nation among FBS programs after they’ve allowed an average of just 48 rushing yards per game. And more than once, they’ve shown their resiliency, whether they’ve had to battle back from a 10-point deficit against an SEC opponent or had to play through adverse weather conditions both at home and on the road.
Knowing it has that type of resiliency, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said, should help give Miami confidence as it begins its conference schedule Saturday night.
“I think we learned we have a full team. I think we have depth at every position, and that every position can play. Confidence, leadership, playing through adversity – I think that’s the biggest thing that has changed from last year to this year,” said Van Dyke, who has completed 75 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,042 yards and six touchdowns and ranks second in the nation with his 197.81 quarterback rating. “When adversity hits, we just respond immediately. We can’t let that affect us. If it does, then things won’t go our way and we’ve shown when we need to respond to adversity.”
Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-1) will come to Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday looking to test that resiliency.
The Yellow Jackets enter the game with an offense that is averaging 467.4 yards per game, a number that ranks 19th nationally. And quarterback Haynes King – a transfer from Texas A&M – has proven to be a force, throwing for 1,480 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for another 176 yards and a score.
He is one of only two FBS players with at least 1,400 passing yards, 150 rushing yards and 15 touchdown passes this season and only the second ACC player in the past 25 years to post those numbers in his team’s first five games.
He, along with running back Jamal Haynes and receivers Eric Singleton, Jr., Malik Rutherford and Dominick Blaylock, have all captured the attention of Miami’s defenders.
“They have speed all over the field,” said Hurricanes cornerback Jaden Davis. “[Singleton] to [Rutherford], [Christian Leary], [Blaylock], they have a lot of guys that give a lot of gas. They’re a very powerful offense and they have a great quarterback that can make every throw and is mobile when he’s out of the pocket. … They have a really good running back in [Haynes] that can make you miss at any point in time. I respect their offense a lot. They’re one of the better offenses we’ve played all season and they’re really explosive. So, we’re going to have to be on our P’s and Q’s.”
Miami’s defense, ranked 12th among FBS programs after allowing an average of just 273.0 total yards per game, should get a boost Saturday, too, with the expected return of All-American safety Kam Kinchens, who missed two games after getting hurt late in the Hurricanes’ Sept. 9 win over Texas A&M.
Kinchens put together one of the most memorable games of his Miami career a season ago when he tied a school record with his three interceptions at Georgia Tech.
But there’s been little talk of that performance this week from Kinchens or his teammates.
Instead, the Hurricanes are just happy one of their leaders has been back on the practice field.
“He’s a game-changer in a lot of different ways and not only as a football player, [but] as a teammate, right? Encouraging others, helping others get better, building confidence in them. In the community, you see him, he’s always doing something for the city [he was] born and raised in, grew up in, loves,” Cristobal said of Kinchens. “He’s becoming one of those guys that’s just super impactful, a difference-maker in every sense of the word. … We’re glad to see him out there healthy.”
Said Kinchens, “If I was able to, I would have been back there for the Bethune-Cookman game. I don’t like missing games and those were the first games I missed since I was little, honestly. I didn’t miss any games in high school,” said Kinchens, who had an interception and a fumble recovery in the Texas A&M win before getting hurt. “It was kind of a rough patch, missing those games because I pride myself on making sure I’m fighting through whatever. But it’s a lot of excitement [now] to be back out there with my family.”
There’s no doubt, Kinchens’ return will be a boon for the Hurricanes, who more than once in recent years at Hard Rock Stadium have found themselves in tough battles against Georgia Tech.
Miami’s last three home games against the Yellow Jackets have all been decided by seven points or less, proof of how intense conference games can be.
If the Hurricanes are to continue their winning ways, they know they have to remain focused and take each challenge on the schedule as it comes.
That’s exactly what they plan to do.
“Every game matters now for ACC play and wanting to get to our goal, which is the ACC Championship,” Van Dyke said. “But we still have to take it one game at a time, like we have been. Focus on one play at a time. I think it’s been a good start to the season. We just have to keep that mentality going and that momentum as well.”