MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — For No. 11 Miami, snapping a seven-year losing streak against Florida State was the easy part.
The real challenge starts now.
The Hurricanes said all the right things this week about moving forward following the win over FSU, even after finding out that top running back Mark Walton’s season is over because of an ankle injury. Miami (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) can prove those words Saturday when it plays host to Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0) in a game where the winner will grab the outright Coastal Division lead.
Miami has lost the game immediately following the FSU matchup in three of the last four seasons.
“I don’t think they’re going to let down,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They know what the importance of the game is. They’re going to be ready to play. … It’s a division game, it’s a home game for them. If we go in there and beat them, it won’t be because they had a letdown.”
If there’s an edge for Georgia Tech, it’s that the Yellow Jackets are coming in off a bye. They haven’t played since rolling past North Carolina on Sept. 30, which means whatever little aches and pains that some players had after the season’s first month are probably healed by now.
But Miami does have injury woes. Besides Walton being gone for the year after getting hurt in Tallahassee so severely that surgery was required, the Hurricanes will be without massive right guard Navaughn Donaldson, cornerback Dee Delaney and safety Sheldrick Redwine this week. That means, at minimum, Miami will have at least four new starters on Saturday.
And given the challenge that Georgia Tech provides defenses with its triple-option scheme, that’s not ideal.
“It’s pretty tough to prepare for a team like that,” Miami defensive lineman Joe Jackson said. “Not everybody agrees with the way they play, but it works well for them.”
Here’s some of what to know going into this game:
STREAKING: Miami entered the weekend with the third-longest active winning streak among FBS teams. The Hurricanes have won nine straight games, behind Clemson (11 going into its Friday game against Syracuse) and South Florida (10). Miami hasn’t had a 10-game winning streak since one overlapped the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
THE NUMBERS: Georgia Tech comes into the week No. 2 nationally in rushing yards, averaging 396 per game. It’s not unusual to see the Yellow Jackets near the top of the rankings in rushing thanks to that triple-option offense, which has clearly gotten sharper as this season progresses. Even with a front seven that many rave about, the Hurricanes have been vulnerable to the run at times. That being said, Miami has yielded one rushing TD all season.
LOOKING TO LEAD: The teams have split 22 previous meetings. Miami has never led the all-time series, after Georgia Tech won 10 of the first 14 matchups between the teams. The Hurricanes are 7-1 in the last eight, and have won each of the last four games in Miami Gardens by an average of 16.3 points.
DOMINANT: There were some Georgia fans happy to see Miami coach Mark Richt leave the Bulldogs, and probably some Georgia Tech fans were as well — that is, until he landed in the Yellow Jackets’ division of the ACC. Richt is 14-2 all-time as a head coach against Georgia Tech, including last year’s Miami win.
POLL IMPLICATIONS: With a win, Georgia Tech — which got the 26th-most votes in the AP Top 25 poll this week — would almost certainly return to the ranking for the first time since Sept. 20, 2015. The Yellow Jackets lost to Duke that week to fall out and haven’t been back since.
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