Miami coming in hot to face Georgia Tech
David Pollack expects a great showdown in the ACC as Miami is coming off a thrilling victory over Florida State and is heading into Saturday's matchup against Georgia Tech with confidence.
The temptation is always there, when Miami wins a big game, to start throwing around a certain four-letter word in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, this time for real, the Hurricanes are ... you know ... back.
It is an easy trap to fall into because it has been so long since Miami has been relevant in any championship discussion. After a win over Florida State last weekend ended a seven-game losing streak in the series and kept Miami undefeated, it would have been easy to start making declarations again.
For those inside the Miami program, though, reality says something else entirely. Beating Florida State cleared a huge hurdle, but it was only one hurdle on the way to getting the program where they believe it belongs.
The Hurricanes are not all the way there, but No. 11 Miami is at least closer than it has been at any point in the past decade. There are reasons: Mark Richt came in last season and started to put down a new foundation that emphasized unity, trust, accountability, fighting for each other and relentless work.
"I think it was just getting everybody to buy in and get on the same page," senior receiver Braxton Berrios said. "We lost a good amount of players for whatever reason when he came in. A lot of them weren't on that championship page or trying to be champions in what they did or their mentality. That was a major piece.
"We now have a team of, say, 100 instead of a team of 110 that everybody is bought in. They can be cancers to a team: They're doing the wrong thing, they have the wrong attitude, they don't want to be great. All these little things that matter. I think that's the biggest thing: Everybody is on the same page, and everybody has the same mentality, same mindset."
That mentality took shape throughout the past season, a difficult one that featured a 4-0 start, then a heartbreaking loss to Florida State, three more losses and four wins to close out the regular season. A bowl victory over No. 14 West Virginia served as a turning point.
For so long, Miami failed to win big games in big moments. It had been a decade since the team won a bowl game. But that win over the Mountaineers proved something intangible that sent Miami into the offseason believing much more could be done.
"It was about doing something that nobody on that team had done at Miami," Berrios said. "It was flipping the page to say, 'OK, you know what? We are different. We're going to be different. We don't have to be held to the constraints of the last two years and who we used to be. We turned that page, and this year we turned the Florida State page. And that's what people will see more and more of going forward: This Miami team turning pages and getting back to where we need to be."
Miami turned that Florida State page with an exceptional fourth quarter, one that featured more clutch plays than in recent memory in games against the Seminoles. Quarterback Malik Rosier told his teammates that they would not be denied, but he didn't have to say it.
"Everybody was tired of losing," Berrios said. "I know I was, and my team was going to do everything we could to win that game."
Afterward, Richt was asked why this team made the plays in the fourth quarter, when so many other Miami teams had failed in the same moments.
"I think last year we were still feeling our way around a little bit as a team, as a coaching staff," Richt said. "This year, we have a lot of trust and faith in each other even when things aren't going well. Of any day that things could have got sideways on the sideline, it was [Saturday], and it never did. We do really care about each other. We're a strong team as far as unity. We kept saying, 'We're going to win this game some way, somehow' ... and it came true."
It was a momentous victory, but it also is one that must be put aside headed into a tough challenge Saturday against Georgia Tech and its offense. Miami has proven that it can beat its rival, it can win a bowl game and it can come up clutch with the game on the line. But if everything truly is different for this team, it must prove that it can turn the page on Florida State, too.
In 2013, 2014 and 2016, Miami followed a loss to the Seminoles with a losing streak.
"We understand that was a huge win for us, for our team and for the program in general, but if we lose the next game, it doesn't really matter," Berrios said. "Now that we beat Florida State, we can't have any kind of hangover, good or bad. It has to be on to the next week."
There are plenty of big games on the schedule beyond Saturday, including consecutive home games against No. 15 Virginia Tech and No. 16 Notre Dame in November. Whatever happens this season is only setting the stage for the next, when Miami is expected to welcome one of the top recruiting classes in America.
With an excellent coaching staff in place, a more unified team and elite recruits set to arrive, Richt has shown why there is reason to believe again. But that doesn’t mean Miami is back after just a few games.
There's plenty of time to make that four-letter declaration.