Postscripts, thoughts and notes from Miami’s 24-19 win against North Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill that pushed the Canes to 7-0:
• Style points don’t matter for top 10 teams as much as they once did before the college football playoff. But they’re not completely irrelevant, either, if you are competing for a BCS playoff berth, which remains certainly possible for UM despite uneven play and the inability to dominate even a one-win opponent on Saturday.
That’s why UM’s unimpressive margin of a victory over a 1-8 team could prove a bit hurtful as it tries to remain ahead of one-loss teams Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington and Virginia Tech, among others, in the AP rankings and potentially the college football playoff rankings, which ultimately are far more important.
Wins against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame could compensate for that, but UM hasn’t made the case to be ranked ahead of any of the other Power 5 unbeatens - obviously Alabama or Wisconsin, plus three who are playing at 3:30 today - Georgia, TCU and Penn State.
Style points don’t matter with regard to the Coastal Division, and UM will clinch that if it wins out.
As WQAM’s Joe Zagacki mentioned, there’s a scenario in which UM could clinch the Coastal Saturday against Virginia Tech if the Hokies lose to Duke and Georgia Tech loses to Clemson on Saturday night.
And the big picture here is a very good one: In two years, UM has gone from the worst, most embarrassing loss in the program’s history (the 58-0 shellacking by Clemson) to being unbeaten and riding a 12-game winning streak entering November, while FSU and UF suffer through miserable seasons.
“It’s fun to win,” Mark Richt said on WQAM afterward. “Can’t apologize for victories.”
But he said: “I don’t know why we can’t finish the game without all the drama. I would like to sustain drives and hold it a little bit longer than we have.”
• This defense continues to generate a bunch of turnovers but the run defense simply isn’t as good as it should be. North Carolina, ehich had been outscored 277-173 this season entering the game, outgained UM, 428-415, and had 27 first downs to Miami’s 16. All this against a UNC team that was playing its No. 3 quarterback.
North Carolina outgained UM, 176-59, on the ground, which is unacceptable. UNC entered averaging 132 rushing yards per game, 100th in the country.
UM’s defense has been on the field for 93 and 92 plays consecutive weeks, with UM’s inability to sustain some drives on offense certainly a factor in that (besides the fact that Syracuse gets off a lot of plays against everybody because the Orange plays with tempo).
Still, with UM producing five turnovers and three sacks, this shouldn’t have been nearly as close as it was.
The offense, which entered 20th in yards per game, continues to stumble in the first half of games, to the point that Richt told ESPN afterward that it was “kinda sad” that the Hurricanes couldn’t be more successful on that side of the ball.
• We’ll occasionally get a question that goes something like this: There’s so much talent in South Florida, why not focus entirely on the tri-county area in recruiting?
While South Florida remains the priority, Saturday shows the value of cherry-picking top players from all over the country.
There was electrifying freshman receiver Jeff Thomas (from East St. Louis, Ill.) making another huge play and a touchdown for a second consecutive week. There was dynamic freshman Deejay Dallas, from Brunswick, Ga., with a 49-yard catch to set up a Braxton Berrios TD catch. (Berrios was playing in his home state Saturday.) And there Chris Herndon, from Norcross, Ga., with a 51-yard catch and run.
Three touchdowns today, none by South Florida kids. And that’s a good thing. UM, with a true national brand, still has the cache to find linemen and pass rushers and play-makers and quarterbacks from outside of Florida.
The roster has a good mix of South Florida kids and prospects from elsewhere, and that will remain the case next season with an elite tight end from Las Vegas (Brevin Jordan) and a bunch of high-end South Florida kids, among others.
• For three consecutive weeks, Thomas has made a difference with his speed. His 78-yard TD was a perfectly thrown ball from Malik Rosier.
Remember, the four-star Thomas had offers from every major college program, including Alabama, FSU and Ohio State. So why did he pick UM?
“They showed great love and they told me what I’ll be doing once I get there,” he said in the spring. “The love was just ridiculous.”
UM didn’t start recruiting Thomas as quickly as other teams because of concerns about academics, as WQAM’s Josh Darrow noted. But once UM started pursuing him, it was relentless and it paid off.
Thomas caught theee passes for 101 yards and also drew a key pass interference penalty that negated a Rosier interception.
“He was an inside receiver and we moved him to an outside receiver,” Richt said. “We’ve been thinking we need to do that for a few weeks now.”
• UM offense coordinator Thomas Brown expressed concerns about Dallas’ pass protection and blitz pickup since his shift to running back a month ago.
But UM avoided that problem by lining up Dallas as a receiver, and he made a huge catch and run for the 49 yard play.
Dallas also got one carry, for no yards.
“We couldn’t wait to get him in there,” Richt said, noting his own concern about Dallas in pass protection because of his lack of experience doing that.
• Berrios caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, giving him more TDs this season (six) than his first three seasons at UM combined.
• Rosier completed only 16 of 38 passes but threw for a career-high 356 yards. Richt seemed upset with him after one failed drive, and the offense again needed way too long to get going.
Rosier threw one pick in the fourth quarter, but still has thrown four times as many touchdowns (16) as interceptions (four).
• Among the biggest disappointments Saturday was the lack of running game. UM ran 11 times for 19 yards in the first half and finished with 32 carries for 59 yards.
Travis Homer had only 17 yards before a 16 yard run that jump-started Miami’s final TD drive. He closed with 16 carries for 40 yards and his fumble late in the game nearly cost UM badly before UM forced a UNC fumble on the Tar Heels’ ensuing possession.
Homer apologized to teammates after the fumble.
• Hayden Mahoney started ahead of Navaughn Donaldson at right guard, but Donaldson played a lot in the second half.
• UM survived thanks in large part to three interceptions (Michael Jackson, Charles Perry, Sheldrick Redwine) and Joe Jackson’s excellent strip of Jordon Brown on UNC’s final drive, causing a fumble that Jaquan Johnson recovered.
Michael Jackson and Johnson continue to do excellent work for a defense that’s opportunistic and disruptive but is yielding more yards than we would have expected.
• Freshman defensive end Jon Garvin, who would be playing more if UM didn’t have such strong veteran depth at that position, made a terrific block on a North Carolina punt.
• Richard McIntosh had 17 tackles coming into the game. He had 11 today.
“They had a third string quarterback in there and we knew he was going to make mistakes,” McIntosh told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr.
What’s the reason for all the turnovers?
“People are really excited and they want to get that chain,” McIntosh said.
• Don’t forget Shaq Quarterman’s sack on a 4th and goal early in the game, with UNC failing to score from a yard out.
• So Richt’s first 20 games at UM have gone thusly: four wins in a row, four losses in a row and now 12 wins in a row.
And two enormous games await: home games against top 20 programs Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The Virginia Tech start time - either 3:30 or sometime between 7:15 and 8 p.m. - will be determined Saturday night or Sunday morning.