Hyde: Miami comes back against Virginia in one for the heart
Miami Gardens —
Mark Richt stood before the cameras in the moments after Saturday’s game, and he wore that patented calm smile on his face, and he knew. It was simple math, the way he put it. But he knew.
“I’ve never been a head coach and been 10-0,” the Miami Hurricanes coach said after a 44-28 win over Virginia. “Someone told me I’ve never been 9-0 so I guess I’ve never been 10-0. It’s a blessing. It’s awesome.”
Blessings and awesomes keep stacking up for Miami this season. Wins. Rankings. Coast-to-coast attention after a decade of irrelevance. It’s nearly award season, and the question will be if Richt can win coach of the year honors and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz win the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.
Saturday brought another surprise. It came when Miami was on the wrong side of the day, the wrong side of the stage and the scoreboard in the third quarter, while across the field Virginia players celebrated their latest touchdown pass and latest 14-point advantage.
“We had offensive issues, we had defensive issues,” Richt said. “But we never had heart issues.”
That’s the money quote of Saturday. Maybe it’s the one for the season, too. There were dramatic, final-seconds wins against Florida State and Georgia Tech. There were dramatic blowouts of Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
Now came a drama the other way. They were expected to win and struggled. Virginia threw everything at them from a quarterback who completed his first 12 passes to an onside kick while up 14-0.
“Don’t panic, we’ll be fine,” quarterback Malik Rosier told his offense when down those 14 points.
“Poise and confidence,” tackle Kc McDermott said to the offensive linemen.
“We need a turnover here,” Jaquan Johnson said to the defense when Miami cut it to 28-21 in the second half.
Johnson then got one, too. Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert had completed 19 of 20 passes for four touchdowns to that point, bringing into question if you could win the Heisman Trophy off one afternoon. But Johnson baited him into a bad pass, got the interception and ran it back 30 yards for the tying score.
“That’s what we needed,” he said.
Well, that and the Turnover Chain. It has taken on a mystical quality. Virginia receiver Joe Reed even called Miami, “very beatable,” but that, “The chain is what gives them the spark. I think without the chain they’ve be a whole different defense.”
The Miami Hurricanes' Turnover Chain originated when defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wanted to find a way to reward his players for getting interceptions and fumbles. The 36-inch, 2.5-kilogram, 10-karat gold Cuban link chain has since become a national phenomenon, helped by the Hurricanes' success on the football field in 2017. Several Miami players have had the honor of wearing the chain in the moments after their big defensive play. Here are photos of the Turnover Chain in all of its glory.
That interception is the mark of their year, too. Even in a game they aren’t at their best, they do enough. Fans can appreciate the difference than so much of the past decade. But no group appreciates it more than the seniors who played their final regular-season game at home.
McDermott grew up a ’Canes fan in West Palm Beach, and followed his brother, Shane, to Miami. He reveled in beating Florida State this year considering he’d lived the seven previous losses in person or through his brother.
He knows what 10-0 means, what playing for the Atlantic Coast Conference title means, what a season like this means after everything before it.
“It’s something that I’ve always thought of ever since I came here and ever since my brother came here,” he said. “You look at the talent that this team has had year in and year out, and you ask the question, ‘why aren’t they winning?’
“Honestly, it’s because we just haven’t had the right pieces in the right places. That’s what coach Richt and his staff have done a great job of putting us in the right position to win with the way that we prepare for every single game and the way we attack every single week during practice. Things are just a little bit different and that’s just the difference that keeps us going.”
It’s on to Pittsburgh for Friday’s game. Rosier said he expects snow. That would be a first for many of these South Florida players. You know what else would be a first?
Richt has never been 11-0.