The Miami Hurricanes already had all they could handle with No. 1 Clemson as their opponent in the upcoming Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Now they’ll have to face the Tigers without one of their best players.
Miami announced Sunday evening that tight end Christopher Herndon sustained a season-ending injury to the medial collateral ligament of his left knee Friday at Pittsburgh on a 16-yard catch with 51 seconds left in the third quarter. He will undergo surgery this week.
Herndon, a senior who was expected to be drafted, has ended his career as a Hurricane — and the loss is huge.
“First of all, Chris Herndon has been, oh, gosh, I don’t know what to say other than he’s been a warrior for us,” UM coach Mark Richt said on a teleconference just minutes after Herndon’s injury was announced. “He’s been a great player and a great leader on and off the field. He’s the kind of person that you love to coach.
“I know he’s going to have a really wonderful NFL career. It’s a shame that he can’t finish with us because he’s very important to us. He’s been a mainstay in this offense the last two years that I’ve been here. And this year, especially, he’s been getting the lion’s share of all the reps of when the tight end’s in the game.
“I just want to thank him first and foremost, and the staff I know wants to thank him, and I’m sure the fan base wants to thank him for everything he’s done for us throughout his career.”
Herndon, 6-4 and 252 pounds, was UM’s second-leading receiver this season with 477 yards and four touchdowns on 40 catches. He was always reliable and regularly dragged defenders behind him with his big, powerful body. And he could block.
On Sunday night, Herndon was named the All-ACC first-team tight end by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.
Herndon’s numbers coming into the season: 46 catches for 571 yards and three touchdowns as he played behind, and along with, former star David Njoku.
UM’s new starting tight end: Michael Irvin II, the son of former UM star and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin.
The Canes have only two scholarship players at tight end behind Irvin: true freshman Brian Polendey and redshirt sophomore Scott Patchan, who converted to the position from defensive end during the season. Neither has caught a pass.
Irvin, a 6-3, 248-pound sophomore, has played in 10 games this season and has five catches for 56 yards. Irvin has had his share of challenges along the way, including being suspended and coming into the season overweight and not in optimum football shape. But coaches have stuck with him and recently have played him more, saying he has improved and had been doing the right things.
Last game at Pittsburgh, Irvin got his first career start in a two-tight-end set.
“As far as Michael Irvin [II], he’s a guy who’s earned the right to play over this season, and he has gotten better as the season has gone along, quite frankly,” Richt said. “He will play, no doubt. He’s the starting tight end right now. And he’ll also play some special teams for us.
“It’s typical when a guy becomes a starter their level of play tends to go up. It’s just human nature that way. I think he knows when everybody is relying on him even more than they were in the past, it will help him play even better.”
▪ While Clemson (11-1) rose from No. 4 to No. 1 Sunday in the newest Associated Press Top-25 Poll and from No. 3 to 1 in the Amway Coaches Poll, the Hurricanes (10-1) dipped five spots from No. 2 to 7 in both polls. They are tied with Ohio State (10-2) among the coaches.
When asked whether he still took stock out of being named No. 1 in both of those polls, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, in his teleconference, said, “To be quite honest with you, this is the first time I’ve heard that, so no. The one that matters is the [College Football Playoff] poll because that’s the one that’s going to determine your postseason. I mean, it’s an honor, I guess.”
▪ The ACSMA named Mark Richt ACC Coach of the Year, beating out Swinney 10-2, with Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson getting one vote.
Also named to ACSMA’s All-ACC first team was kicker Mike Badgley. UM didn’t get any first-team defensive players but got running back Travis Homer on the second team, as well as cornerback Michael Jackson and safety Jaquan Johnson on second-team defense. The Canes also got receiver Braxton Berrios, tackle Kc McDermott and guard Navaughn Donaldson on the third-team offense. Named to third-team defense were tackle RJ McIntosh and end Trent Harris.