‘No matter how bad it looks we’ve got to keep fighting’
The fiercest the University of Miami looked on Sunday was more than an hour before the game began.
The No. 8 Hurricanes and No. 25 LSU Tigers rushed toward each other near midfield, the crowd began to roar and a couple minutes later the players were separated and peace prevailed.
Then came the LSU onslaught.
LSU — Vegas underdogs by 3 1/2 points — dominated Miami in every facet of the game, burning the Canes with a 33-17 opening-night victory in the AdvoCare Classic at AT&T Stadium.
It was Miami’s fourth consecutive loss, dating to last season, after 10 consecutive victories to start 2017 (and 15 then-consecutive victories dating to 2016).
It’s only one game, and it was against a traditional SEC power rather than the usual opening cupcake, but Miami’s dream of a berth in the College Football Playoff seems like a distant fantasy at this point — let alone its dream of a rematch against Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
“Well, we didn’t win obviously,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said, “but there have been championships won by teams that have lost the first game. If you’re going to lose a game, it might as well be the first one.’’
UM fifth-year senior quarterback Malik Rosier, who set a single-season Miami touchdown record (31 combined passing and rushing) and single-season total yardage record (3,588) in 2017, looked completely out of sorts for much of the game. He missed multiple targets, and by late in the third quarter had thrown two interceptions. The first one was a pick-six that was tipped by LSU’s Ed Alexander and landed in the arms of Jacob Phillips, who sprinted 45 yards for the touchdown to make it 27-3 Tigers going into halftime.
By then, the UM fans, numbering probably close to 25,000 of the 68,841 in attendance, were silent.
“I felt like we didn’t respond very well at first,’’ said Rosier, who was sacked four times. “And by the third, fourth quarter, it was just too late to respond. That’s something we have got to get better at. We have a long season ahead of us. We have a lot of great opponents. We still have a chance to win the ACC Coastal and ACC championship game. That’s our goal right now. This whole game was a huge learning experience for us.”
At halftime, with the Hurricanes 0 of 6 on attempted third-down conversions, ESPN’s Holly Rowe asked Richt how he planned to fix third-down struggles.
“Well, shorter third downs would be helpful,’’ Richt said. “We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. You have second-and-one and then you have a holding penalty. Just a lot of those little things like jumping offsides. Just about everything that could have gone wrong, almost everything went wrong. We’ve just got to sustain the drives.”
After three quarters, UM, which finished 125th in the nation of 129 FBS teams last season in third-down conversions, was 3 of 10 and finished the game 6 of 16.
The other Rosier interception came late in the third quarter when John Butler returned the ball 29 yards to the UM 41. Four plays later, Cole Tracy kicked a 54-yard field goal to make it 33-3.
Rosier fought back with a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to make it 33-10, then led UM on a four-play drive that culminated in a 32-yard touchdown pass to freshman Brian Hightower for a 33-17 deficit.
But it was all too late.
Rosier’s numbers: 15 of 35 for 259 yards, one touchdown and the interceptions. He had little help from the running game, which only managed 83 yards on 34 attempts.
His bright spot: Canes slot receiver Jeff Thomas, who had four catches for 110 yards with about six minutes left in the game.
UM’s only points before the final quarter came on a 38-yard field goal by freshman Bubba Baxa with 6:49 left in the opening quarter to tie the score at 3-3.
Before Sunday, no LSU running back had ever scored a touchdown. By game’s end, senior Nick Brossette had touchdown runs of 50 and 1 yards. He had help from graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow, who completed 11 of 24 pass attempts for 140 yards.
▪ The Canes had 11 penalties for 85 yards with about five minutes left.
▪ Hurricanes who appeared to deal with injuries, some of them minor, included receiver Lawrence Cager, running back DeeJay Dallas, defensive end Jonathan Garvin, defensive tackle Gerald Willis and defensive end Demetrius Jackson. Some of them, such as Garvin and Dallas, returned to the game.
▪ Starting cornerback Trajan Bandy was ejected in the first-quarter for targeting.
The Hurricanes return to Miami to face Savannah State (0-1) on Saturday in their home opener.