The 18th-ranked Miami Hurricanes entered the Malik Rosier era with the win they expected.
They weren’t perfect, as the vaunted defense would have hoped, but the Canes were plenty good enough to defeat FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman 41-13 Saturday afternoon in the season opener at Hard Rock Stadium.
It will get progressively harder from here, as Miami travels to Arkansas State next week before another road game against No. 3 Florida State in Tallahassee the following week.
“We got off to a slow start trying to find our groove,’’ said graduate transfer cornerback Dee Delaney, a former Citadel All-American whose defense gave up 350 yards, 229 of them through the air. “Not enough’’ big hits. “We’ve just got to come back and get way more bigger hits than what we had out there today. We’re far from satisfied.’’
UM coach Mark Richt was happy with quarterback Rosier and the win (especially because UM did not turn over the ball), but far from ecstatic about the defense.
“It’s just one game,’’ Richt said, nonetheless praising the Wildcats as an “outstanding’’ team . “I’m sure [defensive coordinator] Manny [Diaz] is not totally excited. I’m sure those guys aren’t totally excited, and we’re not on offense, either. I know our defense is probably not going to be 100-percent thrilled when they put the tape on. Hopefully they’ll be using that to motivate themselves to play even better.”
Offensively, redshirt junior quarterback Rosier had an admirable debut in his first opener as the chosen starter — and the Canes dominated on the ground with 317 rushing yards.
Rosier, who won the starting battle in fall camp over redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs and freshmen N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon, completed 17 passes of 28 attempts for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He added 41 yards rushing on four carries.
“He handled the game well and his decisions, I thought, were pretty darn good,’’ Richt said of Rosier, praising his quarterback for never putting the ball “in harm’s way’’ and for mostly making the right decisions.
“It was a lot of fun,’’ Rosier said. “...Like Coach said, it was great, but that’s not championship-level. That’s not what we need. We’re going to go back through, we’re going to fix the mistakes that we had and we’re going to get ready for Arkansas State. So, that’s the big thing; we’ve got to keep going forward now.”
Junior tailback Mark Walton delivered big, as usual, with 148 yards rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, moving into ninth place on UM’s career list with his seventh 100-yard rushing game.
Walton’s backup, sophomore Travis Homer, also looked excellent, gaining 103 yards on 11 carries and adding two catches for 25 yards — making it the first time UM has had two 100-yard rushers since the second game last season against FAU.
Shirreffs replaced Rosier midway through the fourth quarter. He threw two passes, completing one.
Some notable firsts for the Canes:
▪ First career touchdown reception: Darrell Langham, for 5 yards.
▪ First touchdown catch since reconstructive knee surgery: Lawrence Cager, for 5 yards.
▪ First career catch: Michael Irvin II for 11 yards, DeeJay Dallas for 16 yards, Mike Harley for 18 yards and Jeff Thomas for -2 yards.
▪ First career pass and completion: Shirreffs for 16 yards.
▪ First career tackles: Jon Garvin, Bradley Jennings, Trajan Bandy, Dee Delaney (as a Cane) and Jhavonte Dean (as a Cane).
▪ First career punt: Zach Feagles for 51 yards.
▪ First career starts: Michael Jackson and Delaney (at UM) at cornerback, Navaughn Donaldson at right guard and Mike Smith at linebacker.
Bethune-Cookman scored on two field goals in the opening half and got its touchdown, a 1-yard run by Michael Jones, in the third quarter. Starting quarterback Larry Brihm, Jr., completed 22 of 35 passes for 212 yards, but threw an interception to sophomore cornerback Malek Young.
After the 3-3 tie going into the second quarter, UM made it 24-6 at halftime and 38-13 after three quarters.
With about five minutes left, Michael Badgley kicked a 50-yard field goal to cap the victory.
The victory marked the first time UM has won six games in a row, dating from last season. In 2013, the Canes started 7-0.