If ever University of Miami football coach Mark Richt has had history on his side, Saturday at Georgia Tech in Atlanta will be it.
Richt, who coached the Georgia Bulldogs for 15 years before coming to Miami entering the 2016 season, is 15-2 all-time against the Yellow Jackets and 9-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
But it is the Hurricanes’ defense, which came up huge for the Canes the last time they played in Atlanta, which must continue its recent mastery over the Yellow Jackets in order for UM’s struggling offense to even have a shot.
The Hurricanes (5-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Yellow Jackets (5-4, 3-3) each need one win to qualify for a bowl game.
As usual, Georgia Tech has the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation, averaging 377 rushing yards a game. And that, of course, is because Georgia Tech, with the nation’s No. 126 passing offense, rarely throws.
Sometimes the Yellow Jackets don’t throw at all.
Georgia Tech, on a two-game winning streak, defeated Virginia Tech 49-28 two weeks ago in Blacksburg, where redshirt freshman Tobias Oliver ran a mind-boggling 40 times for 215 yards and three touchdowns in his starting debut — without throwing a pass.
Last week’s win at North Carolina was the Yellow Jackets’ school-record fifth 400-yard rushing performance of the season.
“We’re up for the challenge,’’ UM defensive tackle Gerald Willis said this week. “We’re getting ready for those cut-blocks and double teams. Coach [Manny] Diaz is always on Georgia Tech. Every little break we get he takes advantage of it and we run their plays.’’
Said cornerback Michael Jackson: “It’s not a cute game. You’re going to be dirty, you’re going to be sore after the game, you’re going to be banging all quarter and look up and it’s only the third quarter. You gotta keep banging. It’s a physical mindset.’’
The Canes have won eight of their past nine games against the Yellow Jackets, their only loss in that span coming in 2012 in Atlanta.
UM’s offense knows it will only have “two to three, maybe even four, series less per game’’ than usual, Richt said, because of all the time Georgia Tech takes off the clock with its running game. “We’ve talked about that to everybody on the offense.
“The other thing that’s crucial is field position. We know we’ve got to do a better job punting the football, because if we do get stopped, even if we move the ball, we’ve got to pin them down deep.
“…The things that tend to hurt them, like a lot of teams, is if you get turnovers and of course capitalize on them.’’
Two years ago in Atlanta, that’s exactly what Miami did.
In 2016, UM scored two defensive touchdowns in less than a minute, when linebacker Shaq Quarterman recovered a fumble and ran 17 yards for the touchdown; and defensive end Joe Jackson scooped up a fumble and ran 18 yards for the next touchdown.
Linebacker Michael Pinckney had a huge sack in the game that led to UM regaining the ball, and the victory-sealing interception.
Quarterman, Jackson and Pinckney will all be back and starting Saturday — as will redshirt freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry on the other side of the ball, an announcement made Thursday by Richt, who chose Perry over senior Malik Rosier.
“I’ve gotten to see Kosi continue to grow as a quarterback and continue to keep his work ethic up,’’ Richt said. “…He’s played some ball now. I think he’s more ready today.’’
Canes receiver Darrell Langham made the 28-yard catch from Rosier on fourth-and-10 from the Georgia Tech 43-yard line in UM’s final drive in last year’s game that led to the winning field goal with four seconds left.
He believes either quarterback will do the job Saturday.
“They’ve both looked good,’’ Langham said. “We know whoever comes in is going to work their ass off.’’
Said fullback Trayone Gray: “N’Kosi and Malik motivate each other. When you compete you play better. You’re not complacent. Whoever gets in, we’re going to ride with them.’’