With one of the nation’s best defenses, the Miami Hurricanes don’t typically need to come back by two or three scores.
Saturday wasn’t typical. Before eventually falling 28-27, the Seminoles raced out to a 20-7 halftime lead and Jaquan Johnson was fed up. The preseason All-American safety didn’t want to lose to his fiercest rival in his senior season, so he gathered the defense for a pep talk.
“Basically, I told them we couldn’t lose this game,” said Johnson, who led all players with 10 tackles in his return from a two-game absence due to a right hamstring injury. “I told them it was my senior year — it was a bunch of our senior years — and we needed to play to our standard. We were playing undisciplined, wasn’t playing Miami football. That’s basically what I told them in that locker room.”
The Hurricanes certainly responded. Miami held Florida State to only 45 yards in the second half. The Seminoles ran for 25 yards on 15 carries and completed only 6 of 16 passes for 20 yards.
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Still, Florida State struck first. Wide receiver D.J. Matthews ran back a punt 74 yards for a touchdown after the Hurricanes went three and out to start the half. After another punt, the Seminoles took over with a chance to expand on a 27-7 lead.
Three plays later, Miami’s defense finally made a play. Defensive back Sheldrick Redwine came on a blitz for a strip-sack of quarterback Deondre Francois. Defensive lineman Gerald Willis jumped on the fumble and the Hurricanes scored on the resulting drive.
On the next defensive play, Miami struck again. Florida State tried to set up a screen to tight end Tre’ McKitty and Michael Pinckney read the play perfectly. The linebacker hopped into the throwing lane for his third career interception. On the next offensive play, the Hurricanes scored again.
Miami, which entered the game as the national leader in tackles for loss, finished the game with 12, six of which were sacks. Defensive linemen Jonathan Garvin and Joe Jackson each notched a pair of sacks, and Redwine and defensive lineman Pat Bethel both added one.
MIAMI HOSTS OFFICIAL VISITORS
Miami made a somewhat rare recruiting decision for its biggest home game of the season. With a packed house expected at Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes brought a group of official visitors to South Florida for the weekend.
Last year, coach Mark Richt brought prospective members of the Hurricanes’ incoming class to campus for a massive group official visit in December, ahead of the first early signing period. There were exceptions — quarterback Jarren Williams notably visited for the home win against Notre Dame last season — and the group of official visitors this weekend was certainly exceptional.
While five-star wide receiver Jadon Haselwood was probably the most high-profile official visitor, four-star athlete Mark-Antony Richards and four-star defensive end JJ Weaver also planned to spend the weekend on campus for their official visits with Miami.
Richards is a name which has been linked to the Hurricanes since he burst onto the scene. Richards is the younger brother of former Miami wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, whom the Miami Herald reported Saturday suffered a career-ending neck injury earlier this season.
The younger Richards wants his five official visits to coincide with teams’ home games, so he picked the Hurricanes’ biggest home game of the year. Richards has visited the Hurricanes plenty, but this was actually his first trip to Hard Rock Stadium this season. As opposed to past game visits, Richards’ decision to take an official visit means he has a chance to spend multiple days around the team, watching how Miami prepares for game day and how it regroups the following day.
“I’ve seen pretty much everything to be honest,” Richards said Thursday. “I like being able to be around the team and coaches for a long time. I love just experiencing the game day.”
Richards traveled to Miami-Dade County on Friday after Wellington’s 55-7 loss to Dwyer in Palm Beach County. He got to spend the morning around the Hurricanes as they got ready to take on the Seminoles in Miami Gardens. The visit, which will continue into Sunday, will provide Richards a slightly different look at the program he already knows so well.
For now, the elite prospect says he’s considering every school in his top five equally. Richards, whom the 247Sports.com composite rankings peg as the nation’s No. 96 prospect, has additional official visits lined up to Penn State for the Iowa game Oct. 27 and Auburn for the Texas A&M game Nov. 3. He’d also like to officially visit Florida and Tennessee for home games before the end of the regular season.
An ultimate deciding factor remains looking at how teams would like to use Richards, who said he remains open to playing either side of the ball. The Tigers, for example, have been steadfast in envisioning Richards as a running back. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, originally recruited Richards as a defensive back, although the coaches have also compared him to current athlete DeeJay Dallas, who primarily plays running back.
“Obviously, they really like me on defense. They know I have a special skill set on offense,” Richards said. “I think at this point they just want to get me on campus and figure it out from there.”
Richards said he doesn’t plan to early enroll, so he’s in no rush to make a decision.
MIAMI MAKES CHANGE AT RIGHT TACKLE
After one quick-stalling drive in the first quarter, Miami reshuffled its offensive line. Navaughn Donaldson, who started the game at right tackle, kicked inside to right guard. In his place, the Hurricanes inserted freshman offensive lineman DJ Scaife.
It was a big spot for the freshman offensive lineman. Florida State’s strength is still its defensive line, although Scaife played on the opposite side of the line from Brian Burns, who logged his sixth sack of the season Saturday. On Miami’s first drive with Scaife in the game, the Hurricanes marched down the field for their first touchdown of the game, knotting the score at 7-7.
Miami has rotated Scaife into action in recent weeks, using the freshman at both tackle spots in relief of Donaldson and Tyree St. Louis. Richt knew Florida State would provide perhaps Scaife’s toughest challenge yet, but expressed faith in the young player Thursday.
“He’s athletic enough to get the job done,” Richt said, “and he’ll get better as time goes on.”
Even when the Hurricanes’ offense struggled, Miami stuck with Scaife through the first half, hoping the altered unit would eventually help Miami’s offense break through.
ED REED HONORED
One of the University of Miami all-time greats was honored at the game Saturday.
Safety Ed Reed, a 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Inductee, 2017 UM Ring of Honor inductee and member of the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Legends class, was introduced to the crowd for his latest accolades. He also is on the ballot for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.
Reed played at UM from 1998-2001 and was the seventh Hurricane player inducted into the College Hall of Fame. He was a consensus first-team All-American in his final two seasons at Miami and still holds the UM record for career interceptions with 21 and interception return yards with 389. He won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and was named to nine Pro Bowls.
▪ Miami will be without Derrick Smith for the first half of next week’s game against Virginia after being ejected for targeting in the third quarter Saturday against Florida State. Smith, who plays the hybrid striker role for the Hurricanes, led with his head for a tackle on Keith Gavin as the wide receiver was brought down by two other Miami defenders. After a short review, referees upheld Smith’s ejection.
▪ The following seven NFL teams had scouts at the game: San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.