TAMPA -- When University of Miami coach Al Golden watches game film of his team’s 49-21 victory over the University of South Florida on Sunday morning, there will be many bright spots to savor. But an area of concern emerged Saturday on the unit he coaches: special teams.
Golden has primary responsibility for the Hurricanes special teams, and he was not happy with two penalties that derailed two big UM plays — a kick return for 100 yards and a punt return for 61 yards — in the first quarter.
“That’s got to be 160 yards in penalties, right? That’s horrific,” Golden said.
A sign that UM’s fortunes have improved this year, however, is that the Hurricanes overcame both of those penalties to score a touchdown each time.
The first penalty came with the score tied 7-7 when UM’s Duke Johnson’s 100-yard kickoff return was called back after officials called a holding penalty against fullback Maurice Hagens. The penalty soured the homecoming for Hagens, a Tampa Bay Tech High graduate, and prevented Johnson from tying UM’s record for longest kickoff return.
“We had a penalty, nothing we could do about that,” Johnson said. “But we did a great job of coming out with the momentum to score on the next drive.”
Miami drove 91 yards following the penalty to take a 14-7 lead on a 19-yard touchdown from Stephen Morris to Herb Waters.
USF punted on its next drive, and this time, a 61-yard punt return by Phillip Dorsett was called back on an illegal-block penalty. The penalty was called against defensive back Tracy Howard, and Golden said he would evaluate both plays closely.
“If a guy is being aggressive and using a technique we use, sometimes it just happens,” Golden said. “But if we walk in there [Sunday] and I’m being selfish and doing my own thing, we have no tolerance for that. Those two penalties really kept the game closer than it needed to be.”
Kicker Matt Goudis also missed his first field goal of the season from 23 yards on the last play of the first half.
With his return wiped out, Duke Johnson said the Hurricanes will need to improve as the team’s schedule gets more difficult.
“Our improvement is urgent,” he said. “We got to be more focused on detail and make sure that when the ball gets passed you, let your man go,” Johnson said. “We cannot afford those penalties.”
After fumbling only once in 187 career carries entering Saturday’s game, Johnson fumbled the ball twice when UM was only yards away from the end zone in the second quarter.
“I just needed concentration of holding on to the football,” Johnson said. “I was trying too much to score instead of letting it come to me.”
Johnson’s first fumble was on a handoff at USF’s 2-yard line with 10:26 left, and he fumbled later in the period when the Hurricanes had driven to USF’s 5-yard line with 2:42 left..
It was a dream homecoming game for Tampa Jefferson High graduate Tyriq McCord, who intercepted a pass for the second game in a row.
“It was a great feeling,” said McCord, who intercepted Bench with 3:47 left in the first half. The game was highly anticipated for the Tampa natives who play for UM, and Hurricanes’ fans were well-represented in the Raymond James Stadium crowd.
“Everybody from Tampa was talking about it, just going home and playing in our hometown and bringing our family in,” McCord said. “It felt like a home game, it felt great.”
This and that
• Morris, who completed 11 of 16 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns, became UM’s ninth all-time passer with his 55-yard pass to Dorsett in the first quarter. His 5,492 career yards surpassed Steve Walsh, who had 5,369 career passing yards from 1986 to 1988.
• Saturday’s game was the second consecutive start for center Jared Wheeler. Wheeler replaced the injured Shane McDermott for his first career start against Savannah State.
• Injured Hurricanes who left the game included Dorsett (shoulder); linebacker Jermaine Grace (bruised ribs) and running back Eduardo Clements (hamstring). Tight end Standish Dobard injured his knee on the game’s final play.
• Linebacker Jimmy Gaines’ first-half fumble recovery was UM’s first defensive touchdown since Denzel Perryman’s interception return last year in the season opener against Boston College. UM defensive end Shayon Green forced the fumble by USF quarterback Steven Bench in the end zone with 8:56 left in the second quarter. “He made a great play in the end zone, and I just happened to be right there to scoop it up,” Gaines said of the play that put UM ahead 28-7. “It was a great feeling.”