Canes Relying on Businesslike Mentality Ahead of Virginia Showdown
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – All season, the Hurricanes have relied on a businesslike mentality.
It hasn’t mattered the opponent they’ve faced, whether they’ve been at home or on the road, the conditions they’ve had to endure or how their previous game unfolded.
The focus, week in and week out, has been solely on finding ways to better themselves.
Don’t expect that approach to change now, even after Miami notched one of its biggest wins of the season last week against traditional ACC power, Clemson. And don’t expect it to change because the Hurricanes’ opponent this week – Virginia – opened the year with five losses.
At this point in the season with every conference game carrying so much importance, Miami’s players and coaches know what is at stake every time they take the field.
The fact that Virginia (2-5, 1-2 ACC) is coming off a big win of its own after knocking off then-10th-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill last week only drives that point home further.
“They’re a good team. Definitely not anybody you’d discount or think less of, and you don’t do that to any team in college football,” said Hurricanes center Matt Lee. “But last week, they walked into Chapel Hill and handed UNC their first loss of the year. That wasn’t by mistake, either. They earned that physically, on the defense and offensive line, both sides of the line. On the interior, they have good, big, strong experienced, graduate-type good football players. Their whole d-line is good, too, the guys on the ends. They’re a good football team, a good football team. We’ve got to go out and play our game and get after it.”
Added Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal, “There’s tangible evidence, there’s film and proof, that [Virginia] is a team that is very capable of playing at a high level and they did that, which is great for our guys to realize. … Probably one of the hardest things to convince players in coaching college football for whatever years [I’ve done it] is that everybody has good players. Everybody has really good players … and some have a ton of good players. If you walk into a game thinking you’re going to do well because you’re better or they don’t have good players, you’re out of your mind. And that doesn’t [just] relate to who we’re playing. It relates to college football in general. … It’s really who played better that day.”
A week ago, there’s no doubt Miami (5-2, 1-2) played well against Clemson.
Guided by freshman quarterback Emory Williams, who started in place of injured starter Tyler Van Dyke, Miami outlasted the Tigers 28-20 in a double overtime win in which Williams played well, receiver Colbie Young made some big catches and the Hurricanes defense held firm, with strong performances from the likes of defensive lineman Rueben Bain, Jr., Corey Flagg, Jr. and others.
Bain – a freshman – earned plenty of recognition both locally and nationally after his performance against Clemson which included a team-high eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Bain was named both the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week and the ACC Rookie of the Week. He was also recognized as the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Week by the Maxwell Football Club.
“He’s unique, you know? And the thing is, he’s doing it with power,” Cristobal said of Bain, who now has 19 tackles, five tackles for loss and a team-high 4.5 sacks this season. “It’s not like he’s just a speed guy or a guy that comes in situationally. He’s doing it on an every-down basis and his play count is probably the highest on the defensive line. So, conditioning is in there as well. He’s been able to put [together] veteran-like numbers, and high-end veteran-like numbers as a true freshman. … He’s been incredible, and he just goes. Doesn’t say much, just focuses on playing great, great football and he’s impacted the team not only as a player, but as a leader and as a person.”
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the Cavaliers notched their second straight win after upsetting the previously unbeaten Tar Heels and their high-powered offense.
Running back Mike Hollins finished with 15 carries for 66 yards but found the end zone three times for the Cavaliers. And while North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye threw for 347 yards and two touchdowns, he was sacked twice and intercepted by linebacker James Jackson in the game’s final minute to seal the Cavaliers’ 31-27 victory.
And if that weren’t enough to drive home how tough an opponent the Cavaliers can be, Miami’s coaches can point to last year’s matchup against Virginia in Charlottesville, where the Hurricanes needed four overtimes to escape with a 14-12 win.
“We know coming into this week we have to treat every game with full respect,” Young said. “We knew before the UNC win that they’re a really good team. They’re good at their fundamentals and they’re going to do their jobs to perfection and make teams beat themselves. We have to take this game just as serious in preparation, just as Clemson was and just as Texas A&M was. We know they’re a really good team and we’re going to come out with our best.”
It will be for the Hurricanes, another challenge, another opportunity to move forward in what has been a constant process of improvement. A win Saturday would also make Miami bowl eligible, but even that didn’t elicit much reaction in Coral Gables this week.
The focus, business-like as always, was on the immediate challenge ahead and nothing more.
“We have to take it day by day,” Flagg said. “We can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Focus on one opponent at a time and keep getting better. That’s all it’s about, win or lose. Getting better and taking it one game at a time.”
Added linebacker Wesley Bissainthe, “Honestly, right now, we’re not really focusing on bowl games. We’re taking it one game at a time, focusing on Virginia. We’re trying to get one win at a time. We’ll worry about all that other stuff later. … You can’t take any team lightly. As you saw, they just went out there and beat North Carolina. Turn on the tape. We have to come out, play with our heads on fire, give it everything we’ve got and try to get the win.”