’Canes showing second-half mettle
Georgia Tech will again challenge UM
CORAL GABLES — With 1:24 left in Tallahassee last Saturday, Malik Rosier trotted onto the field at Doak Campbell Stadium, looked at his teammates and delivered a simple message: The Hurricanes had plenty of time to score, plenty of time to win and plenty of time to end a frustrating seven-game losing streak to the rival Seminoles.
The Hurricanes quarterback delivered on his promise, engineering a drive that moved Miami downfield and culminated with Darrell Langham catching a 23-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left that lifted the Hurricanes to an emotional 24-20 victory over Florida State.
It was as thrilling a finish as Miami has put together since Corn Elder scored on an improbable eight-lateral kickoff return at Duke in 2015.
But for those who have been watching Hurricanes football in recent seasons, it was more proof that in its second year under Mark Richt, Miami has become a team that can’t be counted out after first-half struggles and early deficits. The Hurricanes no longer seem to be daunted by in-game adversity.
Already this year, Miami has
overcome a lackluster first-half effort and the loss of several key starters, including running back Mark Walton, receiver Ahmmon Richards and right guard Navaughn Donaldson.
Against Toledo, the Hurricanes rallied after briefly losing Walton to an injury and falling behind at the half to eventually beat the Rockets, 52-30.
In four games this season, Miami has outscored opponents 97-38 in the second half. They outscored opponents by 136 points in the second half in 2016. That’s a marked improvement from 2015, when they outscored opponents by a total of 91 points in the second half and from 2014, when opponents outscored them 166-151 in the third and fourth quarters.
Have Richt and his staff made better halftime adjustments than Miami’s previous staff, led by Al Golden? Has conditioning improved? Have players changed their approach in games?
It’s been a combination of factors, players and coaches said as the 11th-ranked Hurricanes went through preparations for Saturday’s Coastal Division matchup against Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I think the only thing that changes is the way we approach the game. We were in the same situation two years ago, and the mindset was just different. There was not one second in this game [against FSU] that we sat and thought, ‘Oh my God, we might lose this game,’ ” senior left tackle Kc McDermott said. “Every time we headed for the bench — whether we had a successful drive or not — we sat there knowing that we are going to be successful and that we were going to win this game. It’s definitely a mentality that has been installed not just by the coaches but by the players as well during summer conditioning and during the offseason.”
Added Richt, “I would say, this year in particular, I don’t know if we’ve made great adjustments, but I know we don’t panic at halftime. I know we don’t start changing everything at halftime. I think it’s more of a reinforcement to do what we did all week — just relax a little bit, take care of business and do what you’re supposed to do.”
The Hurricanes (4-0, 2-0 ACC) will likely have a chance to test their resiliency yet again this weekend against the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-0).
Georgia Tech puts together extended drives that can keep opposing offenses on the sidelines for long stretches. The Yellow Jackets also have the nation’s sixth-ranked defense, allowing opponents an average of just 260 yards per game.
And Miami enters the game banged up; Walton is out for the year with an ankle injury. The Hurricanes will also be without Donaldson, corner Dee Delaney and safety Sheldrick Redwine. Richards’ status is in question as the receiver continues dealing with his nagging hamstring injury.
Saturday, adversity could come for Miami well before halftime. But the Hurricanes enter the game knowing that so far this season, they’ve answered every challenge, including an extended September layoff because of Hurricane Irma.
“Last year, we were just getting together with a new staff and everything. Now we have confidence in each other and we have trust in each other, which allows us to play for each other,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said. “Even if there are missed assignments, we fix everything with our effort and our effort is unquestioned because we just love each other so much. I really play for my teammates and they play for each other and we all play as a team.”