If the depleted Miami defensive line and freshman trio of starting linebackers have as much collective fire in the Hurricanes’ 6 p.m. Saturday home opener as defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had Wednesday, that should propel each unit to a respectable start against FAMU.
That is, perhaps, after the bevy of freshmen forced into action get over their nerves.
“I think they are going to be great,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said of the several teenagers who will play in a college game for the first time. “Then we will get to the locker room and see if they are puking or not. And then we will go from there.
“One of my freshmen last year [at Missouri]… came up to me before the game and said, ‘Coach, I feel like I am about to throw up.’ And I said, ‘Go ahead and throw up.’
“Once you hit somebody it’s all football.”
After coach Mark Richt confirmed Wednesday that starting defensive end Trent Harris has a fractured hand, and acknowledged that backup tackle Anthony Moten has an injured shoulder, Diaz added that, yes, he feels for dismissed players Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jermaine Grace, but that there was no excuse for the Hurricanes not to accomplish their mission.
“Things will move faster than these guys have seen,” Diaz said. “We’ve got some guys that, hey, maybe they’re not going to be in the right place all the time. That’s OK. You know how you fix it? With unbelievable effort and unwavering violence. If we can just combine those two things, we will make up for our mistakes.
“We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not trying to get our guys to play perfectly. That’s not even a remote possibility. Just play fast and play violent.”
Harris, a junior who missed practice Wednesday morning because he went to a specialist to learn the extent of his injury, is the player who has replaced Muhammad as starting “Viper” — his designated end spot. Now, Harris is expected to play Saturday with his hand wrapped in thick, soft padding.
Nicknamed “Toolbox Trent” for his work ethic and breadth of skills, Harris hurt his left hand Tuesday in practice when it got hit between helmets, his father, William, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday night.
Moten, a 6-4, 315-pound junior out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, played in 12 games with four starts last season. He had 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was seen Wednesday for the second day in a row holding his right arm gingerly in place as he rode an exercise bicycle during the media’s 15 minutes of practice viewing.
Richt said there’s “a chance for both” to play Saturday, adding “one is more likely than the other… I think at least one will play… If one of them felt good Saturday morning, I’d probably have them at least dressed and ready to play.”
Sophomore defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh, who will get his first start Saturday, said he’s excited to show people what he can do. “I can get to the quarterback. I can stop the run. I’m physical just using my hands,” McIntosh said, confirming that he practiced “a little bit” at defensive end. “Just play hard, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The linebacker position has lost its only veteran, former strong-side starter Jermaine Grace, a senior who was dismissed from the team along with Muhammad because they violated NCAA rules, the school said.
All three starting linebackers — and that includes weak-side linebacker Jamie Gordinier should he get the nod over true freshman Michael Pickney — have never played a down in college. The other two starters are Shaquille Quarterman in the middle and Zach McCloud at strong-side.
“We’re both going to play,” Gordinier said, maintaining that his young teammates are prepared because they go against “such great players on our offense” daily. “We had two choices: We could have [fallen] apart or stuck together.
“We’re sticking together.”
Diaz said there’s no time for sympathy.
“The other team is not going to start first-down-and-12 because we lost a couple guys. It’s still going to be first-and-10. A touchdown will still be worth six points. You’ve just got to move on.”