That “next-man-up mentality” that University of Miami football coaches and players constantly promote is about to be tested more than ever this season as the Hurricanes prepare to host North Carolina on homecoming Saturday.
Hurricanes left offensive tackle Ereck Flowers will miss at least one game – and possibly the rest of the season – with a knee injury, the Miami Herald learned Tuesday through a source familiar with the situation.
UM offensive coordinator James Coley, calling Flowers “such a good player” and “so smart,” confirmed the news without specifying the injury, saying the junior was injured late in the game Thursday night at Virginia Tech.
The Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who rushed for 364 yards in their victory at Virginia Tech and have gained 1,077 yards the past two games, meet the Tar Heels (4-4, 2-2) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. UM already lost former starting right tackle Taylor Gadbois and backup right tackle Kc McDermott for the season to knee injuries Sept. 27 against Duke. Those injuries forced veteran left guard Jon Feliciano to move to right tackle, where he has excelled.
Taking Feliciano’s place at left guard has been true freshman Nick Linder, who has adjusted exceptionally well.
Now, senior Feliciano is expected to move to left tackle to replace Flowers, and Trevor Darling – a 6-5, 310-pound true freshman and former four-star recruit out of Miami Central High – is expected to move to right tackle.
Darling has played sparingly in four games this season, including the four plays in which he replaced 6-6, 324-pound Flowers, who plays the most important spot on the line as the blind-side bodyguard for quarterback Brad Kaaya.
“I remember I was calling the play,” Coley said of the VT game, “and I was hearing over the headphones, ‘We need a tackle! We need a tackle!’ I saw Trevor just spring out there out of the corner of my eye. I said, ‘I can’t believe this guy is out here.’ I don’t even know if he stretched. It was fourth quarter. It was cold. And then he went out there and just mixed it up with the guys.
“He’s tough. I like him.”
Flowers is regarded as one of UM’s best linemen – if not the best. The former Miami Norland High standout has started 25 games for the Canes, including the past 21 at left tackle.
UM coach Al Golden did not elaborate on the injury Tuesday at his weekly news conference, but said he felt badly for Flowers and indicated he would know sometime Wednesday about the severity of the injury and how much time Flowers will miss.
“It’s tough,” Golden said, because we don’t know if, uh, you know. … Doc seemed to think it was an old injury that just, I don’t know how to say it, flared up. But they’re going to take a good look at it [Wednesday] and see what’s up.”
The other tackles who will be used as reserves, both with minimum experience, are 6-6, 312-pound junior Hunter Wells and 6-8, 312-pound redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu.
According to UM, Wells has played in three games this season and Odogwu in five, primarily on special teams.
Other reserve linemen include freshman Joe Brown and sophomore Alex Gall.
Still at their original spots are senior center Shane McDermott, older brother of Kc, and sophomore right guard Danny Isidora.
The Canes rank 39th of 125 FBS teams nationally in sacks allowed, giving up 13 for the season.
“You definitely can feel he’s not out there,” senior defensive end Anthony Chickillo said of Flowers. “He’s a great player, brings a physicalness to the O-line. Guys are really going to have to step up.”
Added senior receiver Phillip Dorsett: “It’s definitely a devastating blow for us, but you’ve got to have a next-man-in mentality. Whoever is behind him, whoever has the chance has to step up. We know they’re going to prepare this week as hard as they can and we’re going to help them.”
The Hurricanes are in the midst of an ACC Coastal Division race. After UNC, Miami will face Florida State at home on Nov.15, Virginia in Charlottesville on Nov. 22 and Pittsburgh at home in the regular-season finale Nov. 29.