Notes and observations on UM’s 27-19 win against Syracuse:
• A UM source said Mark Richt seemed more excited when Jeff Thomas faxed his signed commitment on National Signing Day than with any other player.
We saw why on Saturday with three impactful plays: the 48-yard touchdown pass on a deftly thrown deep ball from Malik Rosier that made it 20-6; a 34-yard kickoff return; and a 14-yard catch on a slant from Rosier on a critical 2nd and 10 on Miami’s final drive that ended with the Travis Homer 33-yard run.
Thomas has injected badly needed speed and explosiveness that UM didn’t have enough of at receiver when Richt arrived. Speed can jump-start an offense that had gone stagnant, and that’s where Thomas is going to help the next three or four years.
“He’s a big play guy, super fast,” Richt said.
• Syracuse bottled up Travis Homer for large chunks of this game, but give Homer enormous credit for three solid runs on UM’s final drive (for seven, six and five yards) and then the 33-yarder to put Miami ahead 27-19.
Left tackle Kc McDermott had a terrific block on that run.
• Good work from tight end Chris Herndon, who had 10 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown and played through a shoulder injury, according to WQAM.
“He was in the right place at the right time,” Richt told WQAM.
UM has no reliable depth at tight end; even Scott Patchan - a converted defensive end - got in the game Saturday but forgot to turn around quickly enough on a throw from Rosier.
• Rosier, incidentally, was outstanding, closing 26 for 43 for 344 yards, numbers that would have been even better without five drops, including four by Ahmmon Richards.
• Every game, we see the value of having a mobile quarterback in college football.
Rosier ran nine times for 45 yards, fooling Syracuse on several of them.
Rosier and Homer (20-95) were the only players who got carries for UM.
• Richards, as usual, made a difference with six catches for 99 yards and persevered through ankle and hamstring injuries.
Rosier said he told Richards not to worry about the drops and “make plays for me.”
“He would have had two touchdowns if he had hung on to those bad boys,” Richt said. “We’re not mad at him. We love Ahmon.”
• Darrell Langham didn’t play a lot but as usual, made a critical catch on Miami’s final drive, a 19-yarder. Braxton Berrios and Dionte Mullins also had a single catch, for 22 and 11 yards, respectively.
• This shouldn’t be understated: UM has committed only three turnovers all season, fewest in the nation.
• Rosier told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr. that Bennie Blades spoke to the team and said “you guys remind me of a lot of our 1986 team - the team our defense models itself after.”
• UM’s defense can’t put together a full game against strong ACC competition but always seems to stiffen when needed.
Syracuse ran 93 plays for 399 yards, including 189 yards rushing in the second half after 75 in the first half.
But there were huge plays on the Orangemen’s final three drives:
1) After Syracuse, down 20-13, had a first and goal, Demetrius Jackson and Trent Harris sacked Eric Dungey on successive plays, and Joe Jackson then tackled Dungey for a minimal gain, forcing a 45-yard field goal.
2) On Syracuse’s next drive, with the Orange trailing 20-16, Mike Pinckney tackled Mo Neal for a five-yard loss on 2nd and three, and Trajan Bandy - who continues to impress - made a good play in coverage, forcing a 53-yard field goal that Cole Murphy nailed.
3) On Syracuse’s final drive, after Miami went ahead 27-19, Zach McCloud forced an incompletion, Sheldrick Redwine tackled Dungey for a four-yard gain, Shaq Quarterman had a sack, and Bandy’s snug coverage on the sideline helped force an incompletion on a 4th and 7. Game over.
• Dungey, frustrated on a day he completed just 13 for 41 passes for 137 yards and those four interceptions, started barking at UM’s sideline after that final incomplete pass.
Quarterman and Anthony Moten got in his face, and Moten had to be restrained by defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.
Though ESPN’s Bob Wischusen said UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was praising Dungey as he walked with him after the game, I’m not so sure of that, based on amateur lip reading. It appeared that Diaz wasn’t happy with Dungey’s antics. Diaz presumably will clarify that this week.
• Michael Jackson and Langham are inspirations for any player buried on the depth chart. Jackson had two interceptions, giving him three for the season.
Demetrius Jackson also had an interception (which was stripped from him) and Jaquan Johnson (who has played brilliantly recently) had another pick - all of the INTs coming in the first half.
UM became the first team with four interceptions in a single half this season.
• It’s fun watching Malek Young in coverage. He’s only 5-9 but makes up for that with terrific instincts, often impeccable timing, good speed and physicality.
He was very competitive against Steve Ishmael, who entered as the nation’s third-leading receiver.
Ishmael closed with only four catches for 41 yards. Young made a terrific play on an end zone pass to Ishmael in the first half.
• Can’t say enough about how Kendrick Norton and Richard McIntosh have improved as pass rushers. Kuligowski continues to do good work with this group. McIntosh also had five pass breakups.
• UM gave playing time to safety freshman Derrick Smith, who had a couple of breakdowns. Freshman safety Amari Carter also got some work. The Canes continue to look for reliable safety play from its backups; Robert Knowles had struggled the previous week.
“Manny did a wonderful job of subbing personnel,” Richt said. “Let’s keep everybody fresh.”
• Hayden Mahoney started at right guard, with Navaughn Donaldson injured. Corey Gaynor had started the previous week.
• Mark Richt’s first 19 games at UM have gone thusly: four wins in a row, four losses in a row and now 11 wins in a row.
UM, at 6-0, is expected to be favored in every remaining game, including noon Saturday at North Carolina.
“We’re still striving to be the best we can be,” Richt said. “We are not as consistent as performers as I would like us to be. That’s good. We’re winning and focused on growth... When the game is not on the line, it would be nice to execute better and not have so much drama.”