Everyone’s praising the freshmen.
But another storm has been quietly brewing behind teenage defensive end Joe Jackson and linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney, who combined for two touchdowns, 13 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and an interception in UM’s 35-21 win last week at Georgia Tech.
As the No. 10 Hurricanes (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepare for No. 23 Florida State (3-2, 0-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, the youngsters have been buoyed in the backfield by a group of older cornerbacks and safeties who have dominated.
“Overall, their production has been good,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said of the freshmen.
“… Everybody wants to pat them on the back, but there are a lot of other guys playing good in order for them to have success. Guys like Corn Elder, Jamal Carter, Rayshawn Jenkins, Sheldrick Redwine, Adrian Colbert — guys playing physical ball.
“There have been balls that have spit through the interior front — our linemen and linebackers — and now who’s going to tackle them? The cornerbacks who are defeating a block, coming off a block and making a form tackle out in space. That’s hard to do.’’
Under Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who graduated from Florida State and got his start in coaching there as a graduate assistant in 1998 and ’99 (when Richt was the FSU offensive coordinator), the Canes are ranked third nationally in passing yards allowed (137.8 allowed per game) and No. 6 in team passing efficiency defense.
Senior cornerback Elder and safety Jenkins had crucial, late-game pass deflections in the end zone against Georgia Tech, and Elder had a monstrous tackle in which he drove a Yellow Jacket backward several feet.
Cornerback Colbert, a graduate transfer from Texas, returned to the field after missing only two games following meniscus surgery.
Senior safety Carter had a career-high nine tackles last week, and sophomore safety Jaquan Johnson and cornerback Redwine have all been integral in preserving victories.
“The thing that gets overlooked in this game is how well our defensive backs played vs. the pass,” Diaz said. “Because you don’t notice when all those passes get batted down. They’re playing man press the whole game. They are in such a high-stress environment. [Cornerbacks] coach Mike Rumph, [safeties] coach Ephraim Banda did a phenomenal job getting those guys ready.
“You take it for granted. They throw two balls in the end zone that Elder and Jenkins ripped out of there. Sometimes you look at the final numbers and it just says 11-for-19 throwing. Those eight that weren’t complete were all big-time plays.’’
Florida State freshman quarterback Deandre Francois is 25th nationally in passing yards with 1,323 yards, good for 264.6 yards per game.
UM players were being especially quiet Wednesday after practice, and even more vanilla in their responses to questions.
That is likely what their coaches ordered after some provocative, though sincere, comments recently from the younger set.
“It was just what we do every day in practice,” Elder said of his crucial pass breakup at Georgia Tech. “The coaching staff does a great job of teaching us different techniques.’’
And that ‘Wow!’ tackle?
“It was just a regular tackle, really,’’ Elder said. “I just got off a block and made the play.’’
And this about Francois: “He’s a great player. He can make a lot of throws. He’s got a strong arm. He can scramble. He can run.’’
Said Colbert, who had an interception in the opener against FAMU: “Every game is just another game. We’re going out there to get better.’’