UM tailback DeeJay Dallas talks quarterbacks
The Pittsburgh Panthers’ win against the Virginia Tech Hokies was, for all intents and purposes, already sewed up when Pittsburgh started a fourth-quarter drive from its own 3-yard line and five minutes remaining. All the Panthers wanted to do was send Qadree Ollison up the middle for a few yards to get out of the shadow of their own goal posts and start chewing some clock.
The running back followed a pulling guard into a hole outside of the left tackle and found a seam. He bounced to the sideline and 50 yards later he stiff-armed a Virginia Tech defensive back to the ground and coasted the rest of the way into the end zone. It was the exclamation point on a 492-yard day on the ground for Pittsburgh.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been like this,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Saturday after the 52-22 loss in Pittsburgh.
In this century, a day like Saturday had not happened for Virginia Tech. The Panthers’ 492 rushing yards were the most the Hokies had allowed since 2000. The 654 total yards allowed were Virginia Tech’s most since a 1972 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide. If there was ever a time for the Miami Hurricanes to finally get on track offensively, Saturday against the Hokies in Blacksburg, Virginia, might be the right moment.
Even as Miami’s passing attack has struggled, the Hurricanes (5-5, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) still rank in the top 50 nationally in rushing yards per game with a two-pronged attack rivaling some of the best in the country. Travis Homer has run for 732 yards on 5.5 yards per carry. Fellow running back DeeJay Dallas has added another 562 yards on 5.9 yards per carry. Only 13 other teams in Power 5 Conferences have multiple running backs with 500 or more yards this season.
Miami has run for at least 100 yards in every game since the season-opening loss to the LSU Tigers in August. The Hurricanes have crossed the 200-yard mark five times. Less than two weeks ago, Miami ran for a season-high 300 yards in a Nov. 3 loss to the Duke Blue Devils. As N’Kosi Perry slides back into his starting role, the Hurricanes will have a chance to move the ball against Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3) potentially without asking much of the quarterback, although they won’t underestimate the Hokies.
“I’m just going to look at their defense like I would any other team because anything can happen, any given day,” Homer said after practice Wednesday in Coral Gables. “I’m just going to keep preparing, just like I would.”
Miami’s 300-yard day against Duke came with the middle two quarters being played in torrential rain and was ultimately marred by a pair of lost fumbles by Dallas. The sophomore, who had never fumbled before the loss to the Blue Devils, then lost another fumble Saturday in the Hurricanes’ 27-21 loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta.
As Miami has tried to work around some of its passing limitations, perhaps no player has been more instrumental than Dallas. The tailback has found the end zone in three consecutive games. He has lined up as a Wildcat quarterback. Dallas even got to throw a pass in the Hurricanes’ loss to the Boston College Eagles last month. With the last two games decided by a single possession, Dallas’ fumbles have been particularly costly.
“It’s all mental,” running backs coach Thomas Brown said after practice Wednesday at Greentree Practice Field. “You don’t go from never fumbling in practice or the games to having four in two games. I think it’s definitely inside of his head. We’re doing a really good job of trying to calm him down, get his confidence back, but he’ll be fine. He’s a tough dude. He’s a mentally tough guy and he works his butt off. I hate it for him. We’ve got to get better and we can’t afford that. It’s costing the team too much.”
Homer has seen a different attitude from Dallas this week. Even after losing two fumbles against the Blue Devils, Dallas returned to practice the following week at least outwardly the same as ever. Dallas has been one of Miami’s vocal leaders on offense since the day he arrived in South Florida, but even Homer could notice a change in attitude from his backfield mate this week as Dallas tries to fix a surprising new flaw in his game.
“A lot more focus,” Homer said. “I don’t want to say energetic, but you can feel the intensity coming from his body.”
The same day Dallas fumbled twice, he also ripped off perhaps the signature play of his career to this point. In the pounding rain, Dallas took off for a run down the right sideline and skidded into the end zone as if he was on a Slip ‘N Slide to finish a career-long 83-yard touchdown run.
These are the sort of plays Virginia Tech has become susceptible to in recent weeks. Pitt ripped off four runs of 50 yards or longer Saturday as the Hokies were don six starters on defense by the end of the game. Houshun Gaines, a starting defensive lineman, joined the list of injured Virginia Tech players when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Xavier Burke, a reserve defensive lineman, is also out again after having season-ending surgery, while Emmanuel Belmar, another starting defensive lineman is questionable.
The Hokies will, however, have three of their banged-up starters available Saturday at Lane Stadium. Defensive lineman Jarrod Hewitt, and linebackers Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers will all play, coach Justin Fuente said on the ACC coaches teleconference Wednesday.