University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes seniors dominated on defense in their final game at Hard Rock Stadium

University of Miami running back Travis Homer likes the big block

University of Miami running back Travis Homer (24) speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.
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University of Miami running back Travis Homer (24) speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.

The Miami Hurricanes didn’t need to wait long for one of their four senior starters on defense to make one of those plays Hard Rock Stadium has become familiar with. With Miami up by three early and the Pittsburgh Panthers driving across midfield, Jaquan Johnson hunted for a turnover.

Darrin Hall tried to stretch out the Hurricanes defense and Zach McCloud held up the running back. As Hall started to fall to the ground, Johnson started ripping and came up with one final takeaway in Miami Gardens. The ball popped loose and Trajan Bandy hopped on the fumble for the first of about half a dozen huge plays made by the Hurricanes’ seniors in a 24-3 win on senior day.

Before the game, Miami (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) honored its 26 seniors, including defensive starters Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson and Gerald Willis. Those four anchored arguably the Hurricanes’ best defensive performance of the season. Jackson, a starting cornerback, recorded two sacks after entering the day with only one half a sack. Willis, a starting defensive tackle, chipped in another sack to add to his ACC lead in tackles for a loss.

Ahead of the final game of the regular season, coach Mark Richt called upon Johnson to address the team. The safety drew inspiration from “The Replacements,” starring Keanu Reeves, for a metaphor about quicksand Friday. To escape quicksand, Johnson said, everyone trapped needs to work together.

“The first game sort of was like when we started to get in quicksand when we lost to LSU and pulled our way out of it because we were united,” Johnson said after the win Saturday. “When we lost that fire, that’s when fingers started to point. We lost focus and we just started to go it alone again and we had to refocus, get united again and pull each other out of the quicksand.”

Pittsburgh, which ran for 492 yards in a blowout win against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Nov. 10, finished with only 200 total yards and rushed for only 69 on 1.8 yards per carry. The Panthers (7-5, 6-2) managed only a single field goal on a drive which started at their own 41-yard line and was aided by a 15-yard penalty against linebacker Shaquille Quarterman.

Johnson finished with a team-high 10 tackles to go along with his forced fumble. Jackson logged four tackles, Willis added four more. Redwine finished with five.

The rest of the players honored on senior day: Quarterback Malik Rosier; running backs Trayone Gray, Crispian Atkins and Danny Dominguez; wide receivers Darrell Langham and Chad Allen; offensive linemen Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier, Jahair Jones and Bar Milo; defensive linemen Tito Odenigbo, Demetrius Jackson and John O’Boyle; linebackers Mike Smith and Terry McCray; defensive backs Jhavonte Dean and Tyler Murphy; kickers Alejandro Cardenas and Marco Baeza; punter Jack Spicer; and long snappers Sam York and Jordan Butler.

“I cried when I was walking out with the captains,” Willis said. “Everything was just coming in. It had been a long journey for me.”

University of Miami quarterback N'Kosi Perry (5) speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.

Miami’s punters shine when needed

Miami punted for the first time Saturday less than a minute into the game. Then the Hurricanes kept punting and punting.

Often, punting has been a problem for the Hurricanes. Miami entered the weekend as the seventh worst team in the country in net punting. Zach Feagles entered averaging 38.1 yards per punt on 25 attempts. Spicer had punted 37 times for an average of 37.5 yards per attempt.

On Saturday, the Hurricanes called upon them to punt seven times and they rose to the challenge in a defensive slugfest. Feagles averaged 42.8 yards on five attempts and Spicer averaged 35.5 yards on two.

Feagles’ performance was buoyed by his first attempt of the game. Miami turned to Feagles after the Spicer punted once and the sophomore immediately booted a season-long 56-yard punt.

Feagles’ next punt was even better, as he dropped a 36-yarder down at the 5-yard line. The punter finished with three kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.

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Miami Hurricanes punter Zach Feagles (16) kicks in the first half as the Miami Hurricanes hosts the Pittsburg Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

Miami affects bowl stock with result

Miami already sewed up bowl eligibility last Saturday with its win against the Virginia Tech Hokies. On Saturday, the Hurricanes improved their stock even more.

With its seventh win, Miami joined a morass of ACC teams with seven victories, including the Virginia Cavaliers, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Duke Blue Devils, the Boston College Eagles and Pitt. At .500 in the league, Miami is in the same company as Boston College, Virginia and the Virginia Tech Hokies in a three-way tie for sixth in the overall conference standings. The Hurricanes have thrown themselves into the mix for a spot in a Tier 1 bowl game, a slate of games which includes the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the Pinstripe Bowl in New York and the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Tier 1 bowls are landing spots for the conference’s top-six teams, which aren’t picked for the College Football Playoff, a College Football Playoff New Year’s Six bowl or the Camping World Bowl.

Landing in one of these bowls would be an ideal outcome for Miami, which previously seemed slated for a lower-level postseason game. Just take a look at some of the notable projections entering the final weekend of the regular season:

The Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit is a popular option. ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura projected the Hurricanes to face the Northern Illinois Huskies here, while CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has Miami squaring off in a very confusing matchup against the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks.

The Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., is another popular pick. ESPN’s Mitch Sherman projected the Hurricanes to face off against the Houston Cougars here and Sports Illustrated’s Eric Single has Miami metting the UAB Blazers.

The Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa is in play. NBC Sports’ Bryan Fischer predicts for the Hurricanes to match up against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

The Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., could be an option, too. Miami could also meet Cincinnati here, as SB Nation’s Jason Kirk predicted.

University of Miami coach Mark Richt speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.

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