University of Miami

Miami players are steamed. Is it mostly hot air or will it drive them to fix inadequacies?

You can only imagine what the University of Miami’s next opponent, Pittsburgh, was thinking when its players, who manhandled Syracuse on Friday night, were watching on TV as 18-point underdog Georgia Tech defeated the Hurricanes 28-21 in overtime Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

Then again, maybe the Panthers will become lackadaisical and forget their basics (such as tackling) against what they likely consider (and might be right) is an overmatched Hurricanes squad. That’s what it seems the Canes do when they face teams they’re supposed to easily beat, the Yellow Jackets being the latest example.

Georgia Tech won its second game all season Saturday, and its first Atlantic Coast Conference game. Pittsburgh (5-2, 2-1 ACC), a far more talented group that is No. 1 in the nation in team sacks, will host the Canes (3-4, 1-3 and 127th of 130 FBS teams in sacks allowed) at noon Saturday at Heinz Field.

“You guys are 1-3 right now in the ACC and it’s kind of a tough road to get back in contention for the division,’’ a reporter told UM quarterback N’Kosi Perry at the post-game news conference. “What are the goals for this team right now?”

“Win,’’ said Perry, who was 16 of 28 for 188 yards and two touchdowns, with one rushing score, but nonetheless needed to elevate his game to give UM a fighting chance in light of several inadequacies. “Week by week, just win. We gotta win.’’

Obviously easier said than done.

Miami might mathematically still be in the race for the Coastal Division title, but it would prove nearly miraculous for the Canes to get there at this point, with every Coastal team in front of them in either ACC records, overall records or head-to-head competition.

Now it’s grind for a winning season and bowl berth, as pride in the past hasn’t often served as enough motivation for a team as inconsistent, and even as talented, as Miami. The Canes must win at least six games to qualify for a bowl berth, and there are only five left: at Pitt on Saturday; at Florida State (3-4, 2-3) on November 2; against Louisville (4-3, 2-2) on November 9; FIU (4-3, 2-2 C-USA) at Marlins Park on November 23; and at Duke (4-3, 2-2) on November 30.

“It’s attention to detail,’’ said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who led UM with 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. “This is what happens when you don’t pay attention to detail, when you don’t put it on the line for your brothers; When you don’t do what you’re supposed to do... ‘’

It’s a mind-boggling absence of a kicking game as well, not counting Bubba Baxa’s usually strong kickoffs, and the exceptional punting of Lou Hedley.

The Canes missed field goals of 34 (Turner Davidson), 27 (Baxa) and 25 yards (Davidson) on Saturday, the last of which was blocked with 26 seconds left in the game and would have surely sealed a three-point victory if converted.

“You could write a book on it,’’ Diaz said of UM’s horrendous kicking game. “And if you figure it out, you could sell that and not have to do what you do for a living. I mean, any of us. This week in practice they were unbelievable kicking the ball. Bubba and Turner both. It’s just, you get them out there [and] it is what it is.’’

Added Quarterman: “We can’t do anything but love them up, but there’s also a standard for them as well. It’s not above anybody.”

The Hurricanes were clearly upset after Saturday’s loss — and angry. Sophomore defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera threatened to punch a Miami Herald photographer who was photographing players walking off the field.

2217 UM vs Georgia Tech 101919.jpg
Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera (1) vents his frustration as he points his fist toward the camera lens while leaving the field after the University of Miami is defeated by Georgia Tech on Saturday, October 19, 2019. Al Diaz adiaz@miamiherald.com

“We didn’t execute,’’ a frustrated UM defensive end Trevon Hill said repeatedly after the game. “We gotta focus on Pitt because they ain’t gonna feel sorry for us.’’

Miami also has to focus on getting three key starters back from undisclosed injuries. Running back DeeJay Dallas left the game with an apparent knee injury and didn’t return. Cornerback Trajan Bandy and linebacker Michael Pinckney also left the game and didn’t return. Without at least two of them — Bandy and Pinckney — the Canes will be in trouble next week.

Talented backup sophomore tailback Cam’Ron Harris played with heart and had a career day Saturday with 136 rushing yards on 18 carries and a 19-yard touchdown catch.

But cornerback DJ Ivey, who started against the Yellow Jackets, got burned on two of Georgia Tech’s three touchdowns in regulation, including one on a fake-punt-turned-41-yard-touchdown-pass from Jackets punter Pressley Harvin to Nathan Cottrell. Ivey inexplicably stopped running along with Cottrell on the play, leaving him all alone to make the catch and sprint into the end zone.

And Pinckney’s replacement was walk-on Ryan Ragone, because coach Manny Diaz said skilled freshman scholarship linebacker Sam Brooks had been practicing behind Shaquille Quarterman. Brooks has played in four games this season, and one more would automatically take away a chance to be redshirted, although defensive coordinator Blake Baker said last week that he’s too valuable to redshirt.

Diaz was asked about his message to recruits.

“They’re part of the solution, right? There’s no doubt about that. We’ve mentioned all along we have a very small senior class. We have a very young football team. You can see through all these games the promise of the future, while at the same time seeing some of the ugliness of the present.

“So, to me it’s about understanding that, ‘Hey, there is an opportunity.’ For lack of a better word, this is a rebuild. We’re not just picking up where we left off with great success. So, to me, the guys in our conversations with them, even up to this point, have been excited to come be a part of the solution.’’

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.
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