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No shortage of motivation for No. 13 Virginia Tech going into showdown with No. 9 Miami

November 4, 2017 GMT

MIAMI - Part of a football coach’s job is to motivate, and that’s exactly what a Miami assistant did for Chris Cunningham.

“I can still remember to this day when Miami came to my high school and the linebacker coach, he kinda said that I was undersized,” said Cunningham, a Jacksonville, Fla. native and now a sophomore tight end at Virginia Tech. “I always think about that. I remember he said I was undersized because I was shorter than him. It sort of left like a little chip on my shoulder. I’m glad they didn’t offer me because of that. They just like overlooked me so I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad that we get to play them this Saturday.”

Sure, that all went down under former Miami coach Al Golden. Mark Richt took over before last season. Still, it’s on Cunningham’s mind this week.

While Miami’s recruiting snub gives Cunningham extra drive going into Saturday’s pivotal ACC Coastal Division clash between the No. 13 Hokies (7-1, 3-1 ACC) and the No. 9 Hurricanes (7-0, 5-0), the rest of Tech’s roster isn’t exactly hurting for motivation.

The winner gets the inside track for the division crown. A Tech loss – which would be the Hokies’ second conference set back of the season – would eliminate them from the title race.

“We’re playing The U, so there’s obviously all that behind it,” redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson said. “It’s a big game, especially for the Coastal. I think they’re probably in first place or something like that, so it would be very big for us to get a win down there.”

The Hokies have lost two of their last three games at Miami, and three of their last five overall in the series between old Big East foes. In that conference, the Hokies and Hurricanes combined to win or share eight conference titles in 12 years.

Both schools left the Big East to join the ACC in 2004. Longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been on the sidelines for 26 meetings with the Hurricanes.

“The first time we beat them in 1995 is one of the early memories, because we had not beaten them before, and that was my first year as coordinator,” Foster said. “We were 0-2 going into that game, and that turned our season around. I think, obviously, that was one of the signature wins in this series without a doubt.”

In their second year under Mark Richt, the Hurricanes have reclaimed some of the swagger and bravado that was the trademark of their teams in the ’90s.

The team has a turnover chain, a 10-karat gold rope chain with a large, dangling charm in the shape of the university’s “U” logo. It’s hung around the neck of Miami defensive players immediately after they come up with a turnover – an interception or a forced fumble.

“That’s so Miami, a Cuban-link chain like that,” Richt, a Miami graduate, said. “It’s a little gaudy, but hey, that’s how we roll.”

The chain has gotten plenty of attention. The Hurricanes have forced 16 turnovers – including 11 interceptions – in their first seven games this season.

“It only blows up if you get turnovers,” Richt said. “If you don’t get turnovers, it stays in the box. It stays in the trunk.”

Of course, both teams feature new starting quarterbacks who have excelled at protecting the football. Tech redshirt freshman Josh Jackson has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in eight games.

Miami junior Malik Rosier has the same totals through seven games.

Saturday night’s mega-game could come down to that statistic. The team that has won the turnover battle has won the last five meetings between Tech and Miami.