University of Miami running back Travis Homer likes the big block
Despite the pain of a chaotic, frustrating season, the University of Miami found the resolve to finish on top Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
No matter how bad it has been, and no matter how challenged the offense appeared at times Saturday, these Canes have not quit.
The Hurricanes ended their regular season on senior day by defeating Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh 24-3, positioning themselves for a better bowl and going into it with a two-game winning streak.
“Great victory,’’ said UM coach Mark Richt. “All victories are great. Very thankful for that. Very thankful for the fans who showed up and supported us. That was very important to us.”
Miami (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) will officially learn its bowl destination on Sunday, Dec. 2.
Pitt finished 7-5 and 6-2.
The last time the Hurricanes finished 7-5 was in 2012, former coach Al Golden’s second season.
The win — anchored by another outstanding defensive performance and Travis Homer’s season-high 168 yards and a touchdown on eight carries — felt especially sweet for the Canes a year after the Panthers ended Miami’s undefeated season in the regular-season finale Thanksgiving weekend in Pittsburgh.
“I want to give credit to Pitt, in that they found a way to win the Coastal and they’ll represent next week [against Clemson], and I want to wish them the best. A year ago we were the ones going to the Coastal [championship] and got upset at their house. ...Our guys rose to the occasion.’’
The Canes’ defense, which had six sacks and 14 tackles for loss, held Pitt to 200 total yards and only 1.8 yards per carry.
“It was awesome,’’ Richt said of the defensive performance. “They played their tails off.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz gushed about his players at the post-game podium.
“Hard to be more proud of a defensive unit than what these guys did,’’ Diaz said. “We talked about the last home game and just going out there and putting on a show. We’ve got a lot of guys that are fun to watch. We’ve got a lot of guys that are fun to coach.
“We felt like we had to repay every fan that was in the stands... Man, the situations that they get put in and the way that they play, the way that they respond... 1 of 15 on third down: It’s just awesome, man. All of us as a coaching staff, we’re just so thankful to be able to coach these guys. This is a special unit. This is something that does not come around very often. This is a unit that should be appreciated for years to come.’’
Said senior cornerback Michael Jackson, who had two sacks: “We’re 7-5 but we’re not a 7-5 defense.’’
After trailing 10-0 at halftime, Pittsburgh got its first and only points at 3:27 of the third quarter on a 40-yard field goal by Alex Kessman. The drive was aided by a 15-yard personal foul against UM linebacker Shaq Quarterman and 10-yard pass interference penalty by safety Sheldrick Redwine.
“Other than that,’’ Richt said of the two defensive mishaps, “lights out.’’
It only took 38 seconds for the Canes to strike back on Homer’s 64-yard sprint to the end zone for a 17-3 UM lead. The two-play drive began with an 11-yard pass from N’Kosi Perry to Homer.
Homer, a junior, is now 31 yards from 1,000 for the season.
“It should be exciting,’’ he said. “But all credit goes to my offensive line. I couldn’t do it without them.
“I worked hard every day on the practice field [and] I’ve had good competition in the running back room to keep pushing us to go further and further. I know every running back in that room, and me as well, is getting better every day.’’
UM iced the victory with a 3-yard touchdown rush by DeeJay Dallas early in the fourth quarter to culminate a 7-play, 81-yard drive that was aided by a 41-yard rush by Perry.
Perry had his toughest game since returning to the starting lineup earlier this month. He completed 6 of 24 passes for 52 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. However, at least six of his passes were dropped.
He ran five times for 46 yards.
The first half was an ugly, offensive struggle for both programs.
Though Miami had the 10-point lead, the Canes failed to score an offensive touchdown. Instead, their points came on a 37-yard field goal from freshman Bubba Baxa and 65-yard punt return by Dallas.
Through two quarters that included a combined 12 completions, 12 first downs and 12 punts, UM had 101 total yards and Pittsburgh, 115.
Perry had completed only four of 18 passes for 37 yards, with five of the six drops in the first half.
Baxa kicked his field goal at 10:17 of the opening quarter – after the offense drove 62 yards on six plays. Most of that drive came on a 47-yard sprint down the left sideline by running back Travis Homer. UM gained another 54 yards the entire first half.
UM scored its next touchdown on Dallas’ zig-zag punt return at 9:08 of the second quarter, the first time Miami has scored on punt returns in back-to-back weeks since October 2005. Former Hurricane Jeff Thomas, who was dismissed from the program on Wednesday, scored on a 51-yard punt return last week.
“Today DeeJay really stepped it up,’’ Richt said.
Officials took plenty of time to review what they thought might be targeting by Homer on what was actually a crushing – and legal – block by the running back.
UM led 10-0 after officials announced there was no penalty.
Do the Canes have a preference of bowls?
“Nah,’’ said Michael Jackson. “But I ain’t gonna lie. I’d like to go somewhere warm.’’