Thoughts and reaction from UM’s 35-21 win against Georgia Tech:
• UM allowed 267 yards rushing, less than it relinquished during any game against the Yellow Jackets during Mark D’Onofrio’s four-year stint as coordinator.
The Hurricanes allowed 287 yards rushing against Tech in D’Onofrio’s first game, more than 300 each of the past three.
Tech averaged 4.9 per carry on Saturday, but here was the difference: two forced fumbles resulting in touchdowns, the type of plays that didn’t happen much under the previous staff but are more likely to occur now because of the attacking philosophy preached by new coordinator Manny Diaz. Remember, UM entered leading the nation in sacks per game and tackles for loss per game.
Miami scored two defensive touchdowns in three snaps in the first half. The Hurricanes had two defensive touchdowns in the last three seasons combined entering Saturday’s game.
Trent Harris forced a fumble on the first of those two game-changing turnovers, and Shaquille Quarterman scooped it up for a touchdown.
Impressive freshman defensive end Joe Jackson had the second just a minute later, on a scoop off a fumble by Tech quarterback Justin Thomas. His 18-yard return made it 28-7.
“It happened so fast; I was overwhelmed,” Jackson said on WQAM. “We work on fumble recovery every day” in practice. “I came in early. I’ve been busting my tail for them.”
And after struggling for a time against Tech’s running game, UM’s defense stiffened late. After closing to within 28-21, Tech failed to score on any of its final four possessions. Here’s why:
On the first of those four, Harris had a tackle for loss, Jamal Carter made a great tackle for a short gain, and Rayshawn Jenkins forced a Tech runner out of bounds, short of a first down.
On the second of those four Tech series, Jenkins had a key stop on a third down running play, then did an excellent job on pass coverage on a 4th and 4 pass into the end zone.
On the third, Corn Elder had a key third down stop.
And on the fourth, Adrian Colbert (back from a knee procedure) made a terrific pass deflection on third down, and Mike Pinckney had an interception on Tech’s final offensive play.
Pinckney had another sack, giving him 2.5 for the season.
So credit the freshmen linebackers (Pinckney and Quarterman continue to make a difference), Harris (who had his most impactful game after dealing with playing with a club on his hand) and the overall play of the secondary, which tackled well and helped hold Tech to 94 yards passing.
This was one of the hallmark games for UM’s Jenkins/Carter safety combo.
Jenkins, incidentally, has really elevated his game and is drawing interest from NFL scouts. Carter established a career high with nine solo tackles.
And UM’s backup defensive players are starting to develop and contribute, including Mike Smith and Charles Perry.
• UM had eight tackles for loss and leads the nation with 48.
• Brad Kaaya threw only 19 times but finished with 241 yards on 13 completions, often doing his best work when UM was playing at a fast pace.
Kaaya was exceptional after Tech closed to within 28-21, leading UM on a touchdown drive that included 12- and 32-yard catches by Ahmmon Richards (who’s going to be a great one at Miami) and then a slant to Stacy Coley for a 31 yard touchdown.
That was Kaaya’s 50th touchdown pass as a Hurricane. And Coley’s TD reception was his fourth of the season and the 15th of his career. His 15 career receiving touchdowns are tied for eighth all-time with Brian Blades (1984-87).
Coley closed with four catches for 75 yards, tight end Chris Herndon 2 for 59, and Richards 2 for 43.
Braxton Berrios had a nifty catch for 22 yards and made several terrific blocks, including one on Mark Walton’s 14-yard touchdown run. Walton now has 18 TDs in 17 career games and remains on track to top UM’s career touchdown record of 35, by Edgerrin James and Stephen McGuire.
UM’s offense closed with 21 points against a defense that entered allowing 14 per game, 14th in the country.
• Joe Yearby opened the scoring with a 27-yard TD run and closed with 65 yards on nine carries. Walton, who entered averaging 8.4 per carry, had modest totals (15 for 44, 2.9 average).
UM also got Gus Edwards some late work (two carries, seven yards).
• Postgame reaction from Mark Richt, courtesy of WQAM: “They never come easy, even this one. We got a couple gifts thankfully. When I say gifts, we knocked the ball out. I don’t even know what happened, honestly. Scoop and score. It’s wonderful. If not for those two, we might still be playing in overtime right now. Those plays were pivotal.”
Richt says UM works on those ball-scooping drills: “Know when to scoop it up, when to bounce on it. Try to find a way to change the momentum of the game.”
Offensively, Richt said: “We really had three drives in the first half and scored touchdowns on two of them. They held the ball eight minutes a couple times, and we scored in three minutes, a minute and a half, I don’t know what to do…. Special teams did a great job. We knocked it out of the yard every time [on kickoffs].”
On his young defenders (Jackson, Pinckney, Quarterman etc.): “I’m proud of them. They’re good boys. They work hard. I want to give credit to the former staff. All those guys were committed when I showed up. I tried not to mess it up. They decided to stick with their commitment, and I’m thankful for that.”
• Richt is now 14-2 all time against Georgia Tech, including 9-0 in Atlanta. Richt becomes the fourth Hurricane head coach in program history to win his first four games. Howard Buck, Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker are the only other Hurricane coaches to win their first four games. Richt also moved to 149-51 for his career in his 200th career game.
• This is UM’s first 4-0 start since 2013. And UM is now 8-2 over its past 10 games, dating to last season.
• UM’s starters today. On defense: RJ McIntosh, Kendrick Norton, Harris (his first start of the season), Chad Thomas on the defensive line; Quarterman, Pinckney, Zach McCloud (suffered a hyperextended elbow but is fine, according to WQAM) at linebacker; safeties Jenkins and Carter; and corners Sheldrick Redwine and Elder.
• On offense: Trevor Darling (left early with an injury but returned), Kc McDermott, Nick Linder, Danny Isidora, Sunny Odogwu on the offensive line; Kaaya, Walton, Coley, Richards and tight ends Herndon and David Njoku (who had 30 yards in penalties on one play).
Otherwise, UM had only two other penalties for nine yards.
• Manny Diaz came up with the idea to honor deceased Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez with decals. "I feel like UM is Miami's team,” Diaz said. “Our small gesture to what he meant to the city."
• FSU visits UM next weekend, with the start time and TV network to be determined within the next 20 hours.
“I am going to watch a little tape of this one,” Richt said. “Before we land, I’ll be watching some Florida State tape.”
• For our post from earlier Saturday, exploring the Marlins’ options to fill two openings in their pitching rotation this winter, please click here.... And please follow me on Twitter (@flasportsbuzz).