Hurricanes coach Mark Richt opened a treasure chest full of freshmen Saturday in his Miami debut over Florida A&M.
And he liked what he saw, he said Sunday, a day after the Hurricanes smothered the Rattlers 70-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami’s third largest margin of victory in history and the most points ever scored by one of Richt’s teams.
According to the final game book, 13 true freshmen played, including four who started — more than any group of youngsters Richt likely played in an opener the past 15 years at Georgia, he acknowledged.
Unfortunately, a redshirt freshman playing in his first college game Saturday, backup weak-side linebacker Jamie Gordinier, sustained a season-ending knee injury, UM announced Sunday night after Richt’s teleconference.
Gordinier, a 6-4, 235-pounder out of Red Bank Catholic in New Jersey, had been playing well in practice but got edged out by true freshman Michael Pinckney. UM did not clarify when and how Gordinier hurt his knee, though Richt mentioned he was already “banged up” by the time Pat Bethel blocked a punt midway through the first quarter.
UM already lost senior standout linebacker Jermaine Grace when he was recently dismissed from the team, and former standout Juwon Young also left the team before the start of fall practice. Its three starters are now true freshmen, though they arrived in the spring and are very talented — combining for 11 tackles against FAMU.
The other scholarship linebackers remaining: redshirt sophomores Mike Smith and Terry McCray, sophomore Charles Perry and junior Darrion Owens. But Owens tore an ACL last season and despite practicing, he did not play in the opener and was still not ready for game action as of last week.
Richt, nonetheless, cited starting freshman linebackers Shaquille Quarterman, Pinckney and Zach McCloud as especially impressive Saturday. Freshmen at other positions he lauded: running back Travis Homer, receiver Ahmmon Richards and defensive end Bethel.
“Shaq played great,” Richt said. “The linebackers in general played well. McCloud and Pinckney, they’re not quite as refined in my opinion as Shaq as far as understanding what to do and how to do it, but they played hard and physical and they hustle — and that has kind of so far been the trademark of what we’re trying to establish here.”
Oher freshmen listed as getting playing time: safeties Jeff James, Cedrick Wright and Romeo Finley; cornerback Malek Young; receiver Dionte Mullins; tight end Michael Irvin II; and defensive end Joe Jackson.
“Travis Homer stood out on special teams – he got 16 or 17 snaps on special teams and ran the ball well,’’ Richt said of the newcomer out of West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy.
Homer also gained 35 yards on five carries.
“Unfortunately, he fumbled,” the coach said. “He probably would have had his first collegiate touchdown if he didn’t. That was the only turnover in the game.”
Also impressing the coach was the play 6-3, 260-pound Bethel made in blocking the punt with a little more than eight minutes left in the first quarter. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Mayes recovered and the Canes made it 14-0 six plays later.
“One of the greatest things that happened in the game,” Richt said of Bethel’s block. “He’s not the starter on the punt-block team. We had [linebacker] Jamie Gordinier, who got banged up. By the time we go in the game in that punt-block unit, Bethel was his backup. So Bethel’s first snap of his career he blocks a punt because he was ready when his name got called.
“Going into the game he was thinking, ‘I’m second team and who knows if I’ll get in there or not.’ And then all of a sudden right off the bat he’s in there. We call punt block and he gets it.”
Richt was asked how coaches will guard against those talented freshmen being overconfident when everyone is telling them how great they played. The Canes meet FAU at Hard Rock Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday. FAU won its opener 38-30 Saturday against Southern Illinois.
“Human nature is human nature,” Richt responded. “People, when they hear good things about themselves, something they tend to relax. Maybe somehow they’ll think all the games are this much fun and this easy. I hope they don’t think that and we’ll have to do a good job of just getting them grounded by watching our opponents and seeing how well they can execute.”
▪ Richt did not divulge any injury information when asked about the status of backup defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins, a 6-2, 320-pound junior who limped off the field in the final quarter.