Geogia Tech poses road test for No. 14 Miami
After three comfortable, double-digit victories, things begin to get serious for Miami as the calendar turns to October.
The 14th-ranked Hurricanes start the month by playing Georgia Tech Saturday in their ACC opener. Kickoff is set for noon ET at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
Both teams will have had extra rest when they meet with the Hurricanes (3-0) coming off a bye week and the Yellow Jackets having played on Thursday night last week. The Jackets lost that game 26-7 to Clemson to fall to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference.
Often, the extra time Miami has had to prepare is viewed as a bonus for Tech's opponents, who can use the time to tune up for the Yellow Jackets' triple-option, ground-oriented offense.
But though the Jackets are averaging an impressive 216 yards per game rushing for the season, this doesn't look to be the business-as-usual Tech attack under coach Paul Johnson.
A huge chunk of that rushing yardage came against Mercer in the second week of the season when the Jackets rushed for 364 yards against the FCS foe. They added 289 against SEC bottom dweller Vanderbilt the next week.
Against Boston College, they had only 119 yards rushing and then last week were held to just 95 in the loss to Clemson.
Still, Miami coach Mark Richt is respectful of the Yellow Jackets' ground game, no doubt in part because he saw it first-hand every year during his 15-year run at Georgia.
"Clemson obviously did a very good job and got their numbers down," Richt said of the Jackets' rushing. "But that's a rarity."
It was only the fourth time under Johnson, who took over in 2008, that Tech has failed to get at least 100 yards on the ground, and was its lowest rushing total since the last time the Jackets played Clemson and managed only 71 yards on the ground last Oct. 10.
The Jackets had just 22 yards of total offense against Clemson in the first half, which ended with the Tigers leading 23-0. To their credit, the Jackets never quit and held the visiting Tigers to a field goal over the final two quarters.
"Well, clearly Thursday night last week didn't go as we would have hoped," Johnson said. "I think Clemson has a really good football team, and you couple that with the fact we played about as poorly as you could play, especially offensively, you are not going to get the results you would like to have.
"The good news is you get to play again in this sport. You get to move onto the next game and we have another game on Saturday against another undefeated and nationally ranked team. We have a chance to see if we can come out and play better than we did on Thursday night."
True freshman B-back Dedrick Mills ended up as Tech's leading rusher with a career-high 75 rushing yards and a touchdown. In just three games, he has scored five touchdowns to tie for fourth in the ACC in the category.
Miami has had a relatively light month to start the season with big wins over Florida A&M (70-3), Florida Atlantic (38-10), and Appalachian State (45-10).
Sophomore running back Mark Walton has spearheaded an offense that has produced 816 yards rushing, but he is far from a one-man show. He has rushed for 401 yards in averaging 8.1 per carry, but junior Joe Yearby is right behind with 256 and a 7.3 average. Together they have rushed for 11 touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya has thrown three interceptions over the last two games and struggled trying to get comfortable against Florida Atlantic. But he was sharp in the win over Appalachian State, completing 21 of 27 attempts for 368 yards and three touchdowns.
That's a good sign for Miami with what is coming up.
After the trip to Atlanta, the Hurricanes host Florida State on Oct. 8 and are home again to take on North Carolina on Oct. 15. They have a quick turnaround with a Thursday night date at Virginia Tech on Oct. 20, then finish the month with a trip north to Notre Dame on Oct. 29.
Tech, which needs a win to avoid falling to 1-2 in conference play, is at Pittsburgh next for its first true road game. The Jackets opened the season against Boston College in Australia and have been home for their last three games.