Clive Walford cemented his name as the most prolific tight end in Hurricanes history Saturday night — and then left the game in the second quarter with a right knee injury not long after.
Walford, who came into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh leading the team in receptions and only two catches shy of Kellen Winslow’s mark for the most career catches by a UM tight end, passed Winslow when he hauled in a 5-yard pass from Brad Kaaya to convert a third down late in the half.
Walford, a fifth-year senior, later converted another third down with a 7-yard catch on the same drive. Two plays after that Walford injured his knee blocking for Duke Johnson on a toss sweep. He was helped to the sideline with 2:52 left in the half.
A dejected Walford tried to get off the trainer’s table and put weight on the knee after trainers examined him, but couldn’t. Trainers later wrapped his knee with ice and helped Walford to the locker room.
One of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end, Walford finished with four catches for 49 yards. He raised his season totals to 44 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s now the all-time leader among tight ends at UM with 121 catches, 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns.
NFLDraftScout.com lists Walford as the second-best draft-eligible player at his position.
Representatives from the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville and Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, came to Sun Life Stadium on Saturday to scout the game.
The TaxSlayer Bowl, set for 3:20 p.m. Jan. 2 at EverBank Field, was formerly the Gator Bowl and will match a Southeastern Conference team against an Atlantic Coast Conference or Big Ten team.
The Independence, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Dec.27, is at Independence Stadium and will match an SEC vs. ACC team.
“We are looking at all the teams that have attractive records and are close enough that they’ll bring fans,’’ said TaxSlayer Bowl committee member Glenn Guzzo. “All things equal, it’s helpful to have teams that have finished the season optimistically as opposed to teams that are on long losing streaks.
“Certain teams have a great history of their fans traveling with them wherever they go. That automatically counts for us.”
With UM playing badly and trailing 21-13 at halftime, the Hurricanes didn’t seem to fit either bowl’s criteria.
“In all honestly, who we think is going to end up in our bowl changes every single week,” Guzzo said.
Independence Bowl representative Jerry Anderson said before the game that Miami, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech were among the teams the bowl was considering.
“Probably, we’re either going to get a six- or seven-win team,” Anderson said, who noted UM “has a good history and historically has been a very good TV draw.”
Tennessee and Arkansas are among the teams the Independence is scouting on the SEC side, Anderson said.
▪ Freshman offensive guard Nick Linder, who has started four games this season, was held out of Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury.