A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:
• One of many smart in-season coaching moves made by Mark Richt and his staff has been changing Jeff Thomas’ role to find a way to get him on the field. The electrifying four-star freshman receiver has three chunks plays on offense and two touchdowns – including last Saturday’s 80 yarder – in the past three games.
"Our biggest issue with him was where do you put him," Richt told Joe Zagacki and Don Bailey Jr. on UM’s Hurricane Hotline this week. "We decided to put him at inside slot [during the summer]. But he's behind Braxton Berrios [in the slot]. Berrios is playing out of his mind and Berrios has this [great] stamina.
"We need Berrios and him in the game at the same time," Richt said. "We bit the bullet midseason; we moved him to the outside position to learn that. He made a couple mistakes but he's a true freshman, playing that position for the first time.
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"So now we have a shot at him, Berrios, Ahmmon Richards, Chris Herndon and our running backs in the game at the same time."
That’s good coaching.
Incidentally, after his 80-yard touchdown, coaches this week made Thomas aware that he dropped the ball a bit too soon after getting in the end zone.
"He flipped it in the end zone [and gave] it to the ref," Richt said. "When you look at it on tape, I don't know [if he did it before he scored]. Luckily he's so fast the official couldn't get down there to see if it was an issue or not. And they didn't review it."
• Even though UM isn’t fully comfortable with Deejay Dallas in pass protection since his move to running game, the coaches wisely lined him up at receiver on his 49-yard reception.
"We got the exact coverage we were hoping for," Richt said. "I will give Coach [Thomas] Brown credit. That particular play, Deejay is a little more adept at running that route than Travis Homer. Because of all the time he has spent as a wide receiver, that's a more natural route for him to run. He makes the safety miss. I'm sure in high school he would score a touchdown [on that play]. He started zigging and zagging and kind of ran himself into that last defender."
• UM – which is 119th among 130 schools in third down conversions (30.7 percent) - has been particularly reliant on big plays.
"I'm all for 8, 10, 12 play drives, but we haven’t been that team this year." Richt said. "We better take our shots and make them. And we have this year. When you take deep shots in the passing game, it's not the highest percentage shot in America. Without the explosive plays, we lose the game. Let's celebrate those but let's get better at the run game and things we have to do to sustain drives, so it's not all on one play."
• How is N’Kosi Perry progressing?
“He’s doing well,” Richt said. “Little things like ball placement - he threw some really pretty balls today [Wednesday]. When you really know where you’re going with the ball, he is really accurate. He’s got a live arm. Deep ball shots - do you go over the top, back shoulder, throw the ball inside of a receiver because he beat the defender to the inside - he really has a good idea what to do. He’s getting there. It’s just a matter of putting it altogether. At a rapid pace it’s not that easy.”
• College commitments can sign in mid-December for the first time and Richt made clear today that “we’d like everyone who is committed to us to go ahead and sign in the early period. We’re hoping they’ll do that. I hope even the kids that aren’t midyear enrollees will sign, knock it out and help recruit the rest of their class.”
• UM point guard Ja’Quan Newton, suspended twice for three games apiece during his UM career, insists it won’t happen again and said be benefitted this summer from working with Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul at his basketball camp.
A UM official – while not speaking at all about the reason for Newton’s suspension – said three game are the traditional UM suspension for first and second infractions for failed drug tests such as marijuana. But Newton declined to give the reason for his suspension, and there is no indication whether academics, a banned substance or anything else was the reason for the suspension.
"I was definitely upset [by last year’s three-game suspension] but nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors," Newton said. "Nobody knows what goes on in my life. I try to not let it happen again this year. That is something I’ve got to do, something I’ve got to be better at. People made mistakes. I overcame it."
Coach Jim Larranaga is also forgiving, mentioning how young people that age might do things they wouldn’t do later in life.
Newton said being able to interact with NBA All-Star Paul at his North Carolina camp was helpful.
"I’m not sure if Chris Paul had seen me play before," Newton said. "When I got there, once I started playing, he realized I was talented and I embraced that and we started talking more and had a little connection throughout the camp."
Paul’s message? "As a point guard, make the other team better," he said. "I learned a lot from Chris Paul. Just lead my team. Last year, I felt I didn’t do a good enough job just getting other guys involved. Getting other guys good shots. My goal is to average seven assists this year. I didn’t ask for [Paul’s phone] number. I am not like that."
UM, incidentally, was ranked 13th in the preseason AP poll released today.