Hurricanes weak-side linebacker Michael Pinckney made quite a splash this past week when he told reporters that the 14th-ranked Hurricanes had “dominated everybody’’ and that he would grade his all-freshman position group “A+’’ for the first three games.
Coach Mark Richt didn’t exactly approve of the comments and had a one-on-one conversation with Pinckney after he saw the newspaper stories.
On Saturday, Pinckney and middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman made an even bigger statement in UM’s 35-21 victory over Georgia Tech — with fellow freshman defensive end Joseph Jackson joining in the spotlight.
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Within a span of 46 seconds, Quarterman recovered a fumble that junior end Trent Harris forced (bandaged broken left hand and all) with a sack, and ran 17 yards into the end zone; and Jackson recovered a fumble and took it 18 yards for another touchdown.
A 14-7 lead suddenly was 28-7.
UM had two defensive touchdowns the past three seasons, and two in less than a minute on Saturday.
Pinckney did his own damage, with four tackles, a huge sack in UM territory that led to the Canes regaining the ball and the victory sealing interception with less than 2 1/2 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
“It was a great experience,’’ Quarterman said. “I honestly didn’t think about it. My actions just carried me. I think it had to do with muscle memory throughout the week. As coach has said, we had been doing a lot of turnover drills, scooping up the ball successfully. The opportunity arose, and I did what I was supposed to do.
“… I couldn’t believe I scored. We come right back. After scoring, I’m still a little tired, out of breath. Then Joe gets the fumble and runs it back. It was really exciting.’’
Said Jackson, a 6-5, 250-pounder out of Miami Gulliver Prep: “Freshmen make an impact. Our coaches trust us. Our teammates trust us.’’
Jackson said he wasn’t expecting the ball to bounce out of Thomas’ hand, but when it did, he “jumped’’ at his “chance to score. I was overwhelmed. I was happy. The first of many touchdowns as a Hurricane.’’
Richt, no doubt happy that the freshmen are thriving, said “it’s fun for them,’’ but that “they’re probably having more success than they should right now, and they’re probably not really good at handling it. They don’t know what’s about to happen. They’re going to get punched really good one time here, and we’ll see how they handle it.’’
▪ The Hurricanes honored the late Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died last Sunday in a boating accident. Players wore Fernandez’s initials and his jersey No. 16 on the back of their helmets.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz initiated the idea.
“I feel like UM is Miami’s team and that was a big thing in our city this week,’’ Diaz said, “and any small part that we could do to honor his memory I felt was vital to us, and Coach Richt agreed. … It was our small gesture to what Jose meant to the people of Miami.’’
Diaz went on to praise the UM defensive backs, including cornerback Adrian Colbert, who returned after knee surgery; safety Jaquan Johnson; safety Jamal Carter (team-leading nine solo tackles); and the play of senior corner Corn Elder and safety Rayshawn Jenkins for doing “a phenomenal job’’ vs. the pass. “They threw two balls in the end zone that two of our seniors, Elder and Jenkins, ripped out of there.
“Very proud of the effort of those guys.’’
▪ Left tackle Trevor Darling appeared to injure his left knee at 9:01 in the first quarter after UM’s first offensive play. He limped off the field but returned in the second quarter.