Notes, thoughts and postscripts from UM’s 44-28 win against Virginia, with the Hurricanes closing the game on a 30-0 run to move to 10-0:
• Here’s one of the many neat storylines of this storybook season:
About a dozen of these players are more than most everybody thought they were.
Conventional thinking was that Malik Rosier would be an OK bridge between Brad Kaaya and N’Kosi Perry. He’s more than that, thanks to his poise, ability to hit vertical throws and his well-above-average mobility, highlighted by another TD run late in the game Saturday. With three TD passes and one TD run on Saturday, Rosier now has 23 touchdowns in the air and five on the ground.
Conventional thinking was that Braxton Berrios was a decent possession receiver. He’s more than that, a resourceful potential NFL player with eight TDs this season and a ton of clutch catches, including a terrific lunging 24-yard catch on a 3rd and 9 with Miami down 28-14.
We thought Darrell Langham and Michael Jackson were bottom of the depth chart players at receiver and cornerback. They’re far more, with Jackson plucking yet another turnover Saturday (on a fumble recovery).
We thought Jaquan Johnson would be a pretty good replacement for Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins. He’s far more, an elite safety who deserves All American consideration after more impactful plays Saturday (including nine tackles and the pick-six that tied the game at 28).
We thought Travis Homer would be a nifty change of pace backup tailback. He’s more than that, an ACC-quality starter. Held to 23 yards on his first 12 carries, Homer then sealed the game with 73 yards on his last five rushes, including a 19-yard TD run that made it 44-28. He entered the game in the top seven in the country in yards per carry among running backs with 100 or more carries.
“He’s been amazing, hasn’t he?” Richt told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr. afterward.
We thought Trent Harris was an OK ACC backup, a useful rotation player. He’s more than that. He had two sacks Saturday, giving him eight for the season after producing a total of 6 1/2 for the first three years of his career. He makes at least one impactful play every game.
And there are others you can put on this list, too.
The coaches deserve a lot of credit, but so do the players, who took seriously the challenge of elevating their games.
• Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert, who received a hug and hearty praise from Richt after the game, opened 18 for 19 before UM’s defense stiffened. He closed 10 for his last 18, finishing 28 for 37 for 384 yards and four touchdowns but one damaging interception.
But this was most significant: After Virginia went ahead 28-14, the Cavaliers’ next five possessions ended thusly: Johnson’s interception return for a touchdown (making it 28-28), Trajan Bandy defending an incomplete fourth and six pass (ABC’s Todd Blackledge said it should have been pass interference), a three-and-out after Richard McIntosh and Joe Jackson combined on a sack on first down, McIntosh torpedoing a run on 3rd and 2 and Trent Harris with a sack on fourth and three.
• McIntosh was again a huge factor, helping limit the Cavaliers’ running game to 55 yards on 28 carries (2.0 per attempt).
We’ll say it again: UM badly needs McIntosh and Kendrick Norton to return for their senior seasons to have a better chance of challenging for a playoff berth next season.
• Cornerback Malek Young, who has had a fine season, had a nightmarish first half, victimized on two touchdowns and beaten for several of Benkert’s completions.
UM stuck with him throughout the first half. But on a Virginia fourth quarter possession, we saw Bandy lined up on the boundary opposite Jackson. Dee Delaney also played a lot and had six tackles.
• Richt, on WQAM afterward: “They gave us their best shot. They were very ready to play. We weathered the storm, found a way to win. It was a beautiful job by everyone.”
• Rosier, on WQAM afterward: “To respond the way our offense and defense did in the second half is phenomenal.”
• Encouraging to see Ahmmon Richards contribute, with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown - his first since the Duke game in late September. He said more than a week ago that he hasn’t felt fully healthy all season and played limited snaps against Notre Dame.
“I’m proud of him coming back,” Rosier said. “We’re going to need him next week against Pitt.”
Said Richt: “Ahmmon has been battling through injuries, like a lot of players. Very nice to see him make some plays.”
• Dayall Harris, suspended earlier in the year, had his signature moment at UM with a 36-yard TD catch, along with a seven-yard catch.
Berrios had three catches for 38 yards, Jeff Thomas one for 33, Chris Herndon 1 for 14, Michael Irvin 1 for 10, Mike Harley 1 for 10, Lawrence Cager 1 for 9 and Darrell Langham 1 for 2.
Richt started Berrios, Cager and seldom-used Malik Mayweather at receiver, according to the school.
• The offensive line struggled in spots, with Kc McDermott beaten for a sack and Tyler Gauthier overwhelmed on one play. And running back Deejay Dallas (five carries, 15 yards) blew one blitz pickup on a Rosier sack.
• UM again struggled in short yardage, a season-long problem for a team that ranks 128th of 130 programs in conversion rate on 3rd and 3 or shorter. That’s why it’s important the Canes are adding the nation’s No. 1 high-school fullback --- oral commitment Realus George.
• As WQAM’s Joe Zagacki noted, this is UM’s first 10-win regular season since 2003. Next up: at Pittsburgh, noon Friday on ABC.