It’s not often the punter gets invited to the post-game victory press conference. But Pat O’Donnell earned himself a place in the spotlight Saturday afternoon with a pair of booming punts in the second quarter while the Hurricanes offense was struggling and the defense badly needed to shift field position.
“We’re grateful for Pat O’Donnell. That’s all I’m going to say,” said sophomore rush end Tyriq McCord, who had the sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery that led to the decisive touchdown run by Duke Johnson.
“He’s amazing. In practice he’s always booting it about 100 yards average. That’s all I can say.”
O’Donnell, a graduate student and transfer from Cincinnati, crushed a 55-yard punt from Miami’s 17-yard line after the Hurricanes offense went three-and-out to open the second quarter.
He then shifted the field again with a 60-yarder, his longest punt of the season, after another three-and-out and Miami pinned back at its 16.
It was a nice bounce-back effort considering the day didn’t exactly start great. Florida produced its 13th blocked kick under coach Will Muschamp when Louichez Purifoy broke through and blocked his first punt that led to Florida’s first touchdown.
“As a punter, that’s your job to flip the field when you can,” O’Donnell said. “Unfortunately, we had some events in the game that didn’t go our way. I tip our hats to the Florida Gators. They did a good job rushing the punt.”
Saturday’s first quarter was one to remember for quarterback Stephen Morris and the Hurricanes, who put up 14 quick points on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Herb Waters and then a 52-yard scoring pass to Phillip Dorsett.
But the final three quarters were a nightmare. UM only produced four first downs and 69 yards on 35 plays after a fast start to the game with 143 yards over the first 15 minutes.
Johnson ran for 39 yards in the first quarter, but only 20 more over his final 15 attempts. Morris finished 12-of-25 passing for 162 yards and an interception after going 8 of 11 for 101 yards to open the game.
UM’s 212 total yards of offense were the fewest since a 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech in 2009.
“They have a great defense, one of the best defenses we’re going to play all year, one of the best defenses in the country,” said Johnson, who was babying his left foot after the game. “They just came out and did their job and did it better than I expected.”
Said Morris: “They made a lot of great adjustments. They knew when we were going to run and throw it. That was the best defensive line I ever went against, but we did what we needed to do to win the game.”
MOVING UP RANKING
The Hurricanes, who broke into the polls earlier this week for the first time under coach Al Golden at No. 24 in the ESPN Coaches’ poll, should find themselves moving up when the new polls are released Sunday.
Morris, who said Tuesday he could give “two you know whats” about where Miami was ranked, kept the same mindset after Saturday’s win.
“It really doesn’t matter to me or this team,” Morris said. “Whoever is in front of us we’re going to look at as a threat and we’ve got to do our best to win that game, no matter what we’re ranked no matter; if we’re not ranked. Our biggest focus is to continue on and moving forward.”
• Safety A.J. Highsmith had the tackle on Florida’s failed two-point conversion attempt and the recovery on the Gators’ failed onside kick attempt late in the game.
• Senior Seantrel Henderson made his first start of the season at right tackle. Junior Jonathan Feliciano, who started at right tackle in the opener, slid to left guard. The rest of Miami’s starters remained the same.
• Safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who had an interception in the first half, was helped off the field with 5:29 to play in the third quarter. Trainers were looking at his left leg.
• Thurston Armbrister left the game with a left ankle injury early in the fourth quarter.