Canes Set to Kick off Key November Stretch at NC State
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – At this point in the season, the Hurricanes are certain of one thing.
There’s not a whole lot they haven’t experienced on the football field this year.
There have been thrilling overtime wins. Comebacks. Road games in hostile environments and adverse conditions. Injuries. They’ve had to navigate tough losses and find ways to earn bounce back wins.
Now, as they prepare to kick off a crucial November stretch that will take them away from home for three of their next four games, Miami’s players and coaches say that after all they’ve gone through, they’re prepared to handle the challenges that will await them over the course of the next month.
“Like we mentioned the other night, [you] kind of get to the point where you see so many scenarios that you really start believing that there’s not many things that you can’t overcome,” Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal said this week. “And that’s really important. It’s easy to talk about it … but until you actually get in overtime, until you’re actually pressed up against the one-yard line, until you have to come back and tie a game or take the lead late in the game and defend your own side of the field, until you actually do that in live-action, it’s just really hard to replicate. Well, we’ve had a lot of work at that now and we’ve had some really good responses and some good results, particularly in overtime. So, belief and culture get stronger, which gives you a chance to get better.”
Added offensive lineman Javion Cohen, “I mean, adversity makes everybody great, you know? And I feel like we’ve bent a little bit, but we’re slowly climbing back to the direction that we want to go. And definitely coming off those two overtime wins [over Clemson and Virginia], just being able to put that together and go through what we’ve gone through together as a team, keeping our heads high was just very important. A lot of leaders on this team, myself included, have just been pushing the same message and the younger guys have accepted it and that’s allowed us to keep going. We all know you’re remembered for what you do in November.”
The Hurricanes (6-2, 2-2 ACC) will have their first opportunity to test that hard-earned knowledge and experience on Saturday when they travel to Raleigh to face an NC State team that, like them, is playing well heading into the final month of the regular season.
The Wolfpack (5-3, 2-2) enters the game feeling confident after a hard-fought 24-17 win over traditional ACC power Clemson last week.
In that win, which came at Carter-Finley Stadium where NC State has won 19 of its last 22 games, freshman receiver KC Concepcion totaled 134 all-purpose yards and scored twice. Linebacker Payton Wilson, meanwhile, finished with eight tackles and scored on an interception return to help the Wolfpack secure their second straight win over Clemson in Raleigh.
Both earned conference honors from the ACC this week, with Concepcion being named the Rookie of the Week and Wilson – who leads the ACC with an average of 11.2 tackles per game – being named the Linebacker of the Week for the fourth time this season.
But Miami will counter with its own talented group – including a freshman who, like Concepcion, is a semifinalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award.
Defensive end Rueben Bain, Jr. has had a breakout season for the Hurricanes, totaling a team-high 6.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, 26 tackles, three quarterback hurries, and two forced fumbles.
He has earned back-to-back ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors and was named the conference’s Rookie of the Week after Miami’s win over Clemson two weeks ago.
The Wolfpack expect him to make his presence felt yet again, with the freshman earning high praise from NC State coach Dave Doeren this week.
“They’ve got a freshman defensive lineman – number 44, Bain – [who] is one of the best freshmen d-linemen I’ve ever seen,” Doeren told reporters in Raleigh. “He’s really playing well, a guy you like watching. Wish he was not on their sideline, but it’s going to be a great opportunity to play against another great defensive lineman.”
The Hurricanes, who have won four straight against the Wolfpack and hold an all-time 11-5-1 series lead will look to continue that trend and will do so with an offense and defense that both rank in the top 25 nationally among FBS programs.
Only six other teams can say the same and Miami’s players are intent on using their strengths on both sides of the ball to secure their third straight win and remain in the hunt for a berth in December’s ACC Championship Game.
“We have to go game-to-game and know every game is going to be a fistfight,” said Hurricanes center Matt Lee. “You have to go out with your game-face on, bring your A-plus game every single time and you know it’s going to go down to the end of the wire. That, more than anything, prepares you for the stretch of the schedule that’s going to come, where you do have to go away to NC State and then you have to go to Tallahassee to play FSU, play Louisville and then finish it out in Boston against Boston College.”
Said safety James Williams, “I mean, this is the most important part of the season. It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. So, we’ve got to finish this season off the right way, stay healthy, that’s the main key and continue to be 1-0 [every week] and push to be the greatest Miami Hurricanes we can be.”