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Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida Attendance: 63,415
No. 3 Miami faces Virginia without added fire
(TSX / STATS) -- Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko used some rather profane words addressing Miami's "turnover chain" in a pregame diatribe in an attempt to fire up the Irish last week.
"They can have the chain," he is caught saying on a video that made it to Twitter. "We're getting a (bleeping) ring."
That didn't turn out so well for the then-No. 3 Irish, however. No ring will be coming their way following the 41-8 beatdown the Hurricanes delivered before a packed house at the Hard Rock Stadium and a national television audience.
The Hurricanes are now the No. 3 team in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Miami coach Mark Richt said he wasn't aware of Elko's tirade before the game, so it couldn't have been used to add fire to the Hurricanes' emotions. But Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall apparently is taking no chances.
Asked this week about the chain, a 36-inch string of 14-karat gold that is the brain child of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and recognizes any of his players who comes up with a defensive turnover, Mendenhall was more subdued.
"I think it's really cool," said Mendenhall, whose Cavaliers take on Miami Saturday afternoon. "College football is -- there's an element of youthfulness and fun that sometimes is lost with the pressure and the polls and the salaries and scrutiny and the entertainment version of whether you've had a good game or a bad game.
"And so to have kind of a thread of excitement and culture that I think the players like and certainly their fans have gotten behind, I think it's really cool."
Mendenhall said he didn't see the chain until after the Cavaliers' game with Louisville last week, a 38-21 loss that officially eliminated any chance that the Cavaliers (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had at getting a piece of the ACC Coastal Division crown.
"After our game, Miami-Notre Dame, I saw some of it on my phone when we were coming back," he said. "I didn't watch the whole thing, but that was my exposure to the chain, and I thought it was fun."
There were plenty of opportunities for the chain to be on display. The Hurricanes (9-0, 6-0 ACC) came up with three interceptions and a strip sack and fumble recovery to turn the Irish over four times for the night. That gave them eight takeaways in their last two games and 24 for the season, good for a tie for fourth-most in the country.
Mendenhall's team has turned it over half that number of times. Of those 12 turnovers, five came in two games -- three against Boston College, two against Louisville. Both were losses. They have only six total in their six wins.
Miami comes into the game with a plus-15 advantage in turnover margin, which ranks second among FBS teams, and also is coming off two emotional wins over Virginia Tech and then Notre Dame. The former put the Hurricanes in position to win the Coastal Division for the first time while the latter put them very much in the conversation for a berth in the College Football Playoffs, also for the first time.
If he did not use the Irish defensive coordinators remarks to fire up his Hurricanes last week, Richt did confess that he used the "don't-get-no-respect" card, showing his players comments from prognosticators on why they were picking the Irish. That won't be available for him against the Cavaliers.
"If I did a video of what's going on now," he said, "it would be everybody saying, 'Gosh, Miami is not so bad after all' and all that kind of stuff. So can they handle that?
"I'm not going to be showing videos of that, I can promise you."
More at point is how the Hurricanes will do facing a Virginia defense led by veteran free safety Quin Blanding, who has 454 career tackles, and stopping quarterback Kurt Benkert, who has passed for just under 250 yards a game.
Benkert earned Richt's respect for a play he made last year against the Hurricanes.
"We had some kind of blitz on and somebody was coming free -- might not even have been a blitz -- and he stood right in there and threw a touchdown pass knowing he was about to get hit," Richt said. "He's my kind of guy in that regard."
Richt sees his own quarterback, junior Malik Rosier, growing into his role.
"Malik is a good passer," Richt said. "He's an agile runner. He's not an unbelievable runner, but he has made some nice runs. He is a threat to run. They have to account for him, which makes it a little bit tougher for them."
Updated November 15, 2017