I opened my eyes this morning and for the first time in a long time, maybe all season, didn’t say, “Did that really happen?’’
Nothing would shock me this season — except if the Hurricanes lie down and give up.
A few thoughts, as the No. 2 Canes (10-0, 7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) begin to prepare for Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-5) at noon Friday.
▪ When star running back Mark Walton, the team MVP last season, went down with a season-ending ankle injury at Florida State, who out there thought that his replacement, Travis Homer, would be as impressive as he has been? (Put your hand down, Karri, moms don’t count — well, they count a bunch, but you know what I mean!).
Homer, only a sophomore, has rushed for 849 yards and seven touchdowns on 130 carries for a hefty 6.5-yards-per-carry average. It sure seems that he’s on his way to that benchmark 1,000-yard season.
This young man is a really, really good player, and that includes on special teams, where he is fast and a lethal tackler and ball hawk. Homer, who also has 17 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown, became the first offensive player during a special teams play to earn the coveted Turnover Chain when he recovered a fumble and set up a touchdown (Malik Rosier to Dayall Harris) on the next play.
Note to offensive line: Please keep Travis Homer healthy.
▪ Malik Rosier is a winner. I’ve said that several times this season, but as life-saving as this defense ultimately is, the quarterback is the engine that makes the team go. And Rosier, despite sputtering every now and then, has been dependable and impressive. He is 11-0 as a starter (remember that game two years ago at Duke, when Brad Kaaya had a concussion and UM won on the 8-lateral miracle?) and continues to keep his poise when things go wrong (and they have, as he threw two interceptions yesterday and was out of sorts the first half against a Virginia defense he called “very exotic...They did a good job scheming us up.’’).
Rosier is now 12th nationally in passing yards per completion (14.2 yards), 19th in passing touchdowns (23) and 25th in passing yards per game (262).
▪ Ahmmon Richards, if he can keep that hamstring warm and loose, is the same, talented Richards we saw last year — just waiting to break out when he’s fully healthy. Richards led the Hurricanes on Saturday with four catches for 51 yards and a 10-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. I just have this feeling that he’s going to be the guy that suddenly saves the day, or helps save it, one of these upcoming games. He’s very smart and super talented and runs great routes and jumps about 10 stories high.
▪ Very encouraging to see Lawrence Cager get that swag back. Talk about leaping 10 stories high, Cager might go 11. It’s fun to watch him make plays because he becomes animated and openly excited. He scored on a 9-yard pass to culminate a 7-play drive with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter to cut UM’s deficit to 28-21.
Last week against Notre Dame, Cager had two catches for 45 yards, including a beautiful 28-yard grab to put UM on the Notre Dame 8-yard line. Cager has gone through reconstructive knee surgery, and coach Mark Richt told us a few weeks ago that one of his knees had been bothering him. He seems to be feeling better and is obviously getting more confident and having a good time. Richt getting more of these guys into the game is important as they go down the stretch and become more weary and beat up.
▪ After two nice weeks of opening holes for the runners, the run-blocking regressed yesterday, though the O-line opened enough holes in the second half for Homer to go from 5 yards at halftime to 96 by game’s end.
“We didn’t get much going really,’’ Richt said of the line. “We tried. We thought some of our inside zone plays would spit and their gap integrity was great. We didn’t get much movement either vertically or horizontally. We didn’t have a lot of success. I thought in the run game, they whipped us.”
Said left tackle Kc McDermott: “They just had a really good game plan to adjust to our zones and that’s something that took us a while [to figure out] and something we have to get faster at. But once we did, as you saw at the end of the game, we were very successful.’’
▪ That turnover chain! Nineteen takeaways in the last five games. Enough said.