All last week leading to the Pittsburgh game, the Miami Hurricanes focused on starting fast.
And all last week, the Hurricanes focused on finishing.
During their 51-28 victory Saturday against the Panthers, they did both.
As UM prepares for Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia (2-7, 1-4) in Charlottesville on Saturday, the Hurricanes (5-4, 2-3) are likely gratified to have scored 17 points in each of the first and fourth quarters against Pitt — the most they’ve scored this season in the final quarter, and other than 21 at Appalachian State on Sept. 17, the most they’ve scored in an opening quarter.
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Only one other time before Saturday had the Hurricanes scored in every quarter, and that was at App State, where they won 45-10.
Miami is now ranked 33rd nationally in scoring with a 34.9-point average.
“You’d love to score every quarter,” coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “You’d love to score every drive, obviously. The bottom line in the end is you just want to have more points than the other team when it’s all over.”
Richt said Mark Walton’s 55-yard touchdown run with 2:12 left “was big.”
“That play took the drama out of the game,” he said. “It was just a good sign of everybody playing hard at the very end.”
After their first quarter at Notre Dame on Oct. 29 netted two total yards and despite 27 consecutive points through 6:49 of the last quarter, Miami gave up the last 10 points to the Irish; the Hurricanes vowed to change that pattern.
On Saturday, after taking a 34-21 lead in the third quarter, the Canes didn’t let up on the gas pedal, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brad Kaaya to David Njoku, a 25-yard field goal by Michael Badgley and Walton’s long run.
“We did a couple of things different in practice this week, just to change the tempo of the beginning of the day,” Richt said after the game. “After flex, we basically went right after each other with our team run drill — offense vs. defense — just to get a faster start in practice, because we weren’t getting very fast starts in our games the last couple of times around.
“Then we finished with offense vs. defense to try to emphasize that. Actually, [defensive coordinator] Manny Diaz had the idea to start faster, and we brainstormed how to do that. I’m not claiming that’s the reason we started faster but we did emphasize it this week and actually did it in practice to try to create energy on the front end.”
Said Njoku: “I think that helped a lot to teach us to start. Like, right now. That helped us. As you saw, the first drive we scored a touchdown, so we’re happy with that. Now we just have to go back to Greentree and keep working.”
This and that
▪ Richt praised redshirt senior receiver Malcolm Lewis, saying he “has earned the right to play more.” Lewis had two catches for 22 yards Saturday and returned three kickoffs for 83 yards.
▪ Richt was asked whether the silver lining of all UM’s injuries this season is that they forced the Hurricanes to manufacture depth in some areas that might pay off in the long run as players heal and return.
“I hope so,” the coach replied. “Anytime you lose players for whatever reason, especially an injury that maybe is not season-ending, but might be a game or two and all of a sudden you throw in somebody who maybe is not quite as ready as you’d like for them to be but through the process of it they learn and they get better and they get confidence, all of a sudden you’ve created more depth not only for this year but for the future. Hopefully that will be a good benefit of that.”