’Canes’ goal: Stay fo­cused

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Christy Cabr­era Chiri­nos

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE, Va. — Even af­ter a dra­matic come­back against ri­val Florida State in which they se­cured their fifth straight win and moved up a spot in the AP Top 25, the Mi­ami Hur­ri­canes weren’t ex­actly happy.

That’s be­cause many of them – in­clud­ing cen­ter Tyler Gauthier and run­ning back Dee­Jay Dal­las – be­lieve Mi­ami is a bet­ter team than it showed against FSU. And as the 16th-ranked Hur­ri­canes be­gin a crit­i­cal stretch of ACC Coastal Divi­sion play with a Satur­day night show­down at Vir­ginia, more than a few of Mi­ami’s play­ers, par­tic­u­larly on of­fense, say it’s time to play to their po­ten­tial.

“We got our tails kicked most of the game against FSU,” said Gauthier. “We came back and won be­cause our de­fense helped us. [In Tues­day’s prac­tice] we played like we were go­ing to get our tails kicked again. I don’t want that to hap­pen.”

For Mi­ami (5-1, 2-0 ACC), one of the big keys against Vir­ginia will be to stay men­tally and emo­tion­ally en­gaged. The Cava­liers aren’t the high-pro­file, emo­tion­ally charged ri­val the Hur­ri­canes faced last week.

In­stead, Vir­ginia (3-2, 1-1) is an up­set-minded team look­ing to bounce back af­ter a 35-21 loss to North Carolina State on Sept. 29. The Cava­liers, who be­fore that loss to the Wolf­pack had won back-to-back games over Ohio and Louisville, are also com­ing off a bye and have had time to rest, get healthy, and put in some wrin­kles they might use against the Hur­ri­canes.

And while the Hur­ri­canes hold a three-game edge in the all-time series, they have strug­gled in Char­lottesville, post­ing a 4-3 record there.

Still, Hur­ri­canes coach Mark Richt said this week he’s hope­ful play­ing on the road af­ter fac­ing Florida State could help Mi­ami stay fo­cused.

“In away games, there’s noth­ing to do but fo­cus on the game, fo­cus on your job, fo­cus on my call sheet, fo­cus on the last-minute things you want to do to pre­pare as a coach and a player,” Richt said. “And there’s a lit­tle bit to be­ing the team that ev­ery­body’s try­ing to beat, ev­ery­body’s against you, it’s us against them. That men­tal­ity does res­onate with play­ers, so I think there’s some value to it.”

For Mi­ami, there will also be value in pro­tect­ing red­shirt fresh­man quar­ter­back N’Kosi Perry, who will make his first road start. Perry, who has started Mi­ami’s last two games, strug­gled in the first half against Florida State, com­plet­ing just 7 of 18 passes for 89 yards.

He faced in­tense pres­sure from the Semi­noles’ de­fen­sive front and missed enough open tar­gets that Richt con­sid­ered mak­ing a quar­ter­back change with vet­eran Ma­lik Rosier.

But the coach stayed with Perry, who bounced back and fin­ished the game with 204 yards and four touch­downs. And Gauthier made it clear this week the Hur­ri­canes’ of­fen­sive line has to do a bet­ter job pro­tect­ing the young quar­ter­back.

De­fen­sively, the Hur­ri­canes – who are among na­tional lead­ers in sev­eral de­fen­sive cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing tack­les for loss, op­po­nents’ third-down con­ver­sions and to­tal de­fense -- will have to con­tend with an­other du­althreat quar­ter­back in Bryce Perkins. Perkins, a ju­nior, has thrown for 1,125 yards and 11 touch­downs, while rush­ing for 341 yards and an­other three scores.

Mi­ami did a solid job con­tain­ing FSU’s Deon­dre Fran­cois last week, but had some is­sues early with quar­ter­back Chazz Sur­ratt scram­bling in the Hur­ri­canes’ 47-10 win over North Carolina last month.

“The spread, it re­ally turns into op­tion foot­ball, so again, if you have to squeeze a block, squeeze a block. If you have to play the quar­ter­back, play the quar­ter­back. Play the dive, play the dive,” Hur­ri­canes de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Manny Diaz said.

MARK BROWN/GETTY

Mi­ami cen­ter Tyler Gauthier says the team needs to play up to its po­ten­tial.

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