Barry Jackson

UM’s defensive playmakers leave their mark against Carolina. But can UM get them to stay?

A bunch of takeaways, thoughts and postscripts from UM’s 47-10 win against visiting North Carolina, a Thursday night when N’Kosi Perry justified Mark Richt’s decision to make him the starter:

Watching junior defensive end Joe Jackson wreak havoc Thursday, including that pick-six, reinforced two points:

1) At this point, he’s the draft-eligible Cane with the best chance to go in the first round of the NFL draft, with junior Ahmmon Richards and senior Jaquan Johnson slowed by injuries this season.

2) UM needs to figure out why Clemson’s two projected first-round junior defensive linemen (Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell) returned to school this year and do a full-court press on Jackson to do likewise.

After the game, Richt light-heartedly told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr. that he would also play Jackson on offense (tight end) and throw Jackson two fades for touchdowns if he agrees to return to school next season.

The Canes have been hurt by early defections the past several years, and Jackson represents the next big challenge. If Jackson returns for his senior season, he and sophomore Jon Garvin would be as talented as any starting defensive end combo in the country next year, as UM tries again to qualify for a playoff berth that would be out of reach this year, unless the Canes somehow can win out.

Without Jackson next year, Garvin would see more double teams and UM would have no other defensive end with substantial game experience beyond redshirt junior Scott Patchan.

Greg Rousseau, whose freshman season will mostly be wiped out by injury, and freshmen Patrick Joyner Jr. would round out UM’s top four ends if Jackson turns pro. Demetrius Jackson is a senior, incidentally.

UM also will go into December unsure if it can keep its three junior linebackers, among others. The Canes’ chances of being a top-five program next season naturally improve appreciably if all three stay.

But all that’s a concern for another day. Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson did bypass the NFL to return to school this season. But Mark Richt said he gives the players the information they need to make a decision instead of pressuring them to return.

Joe Jackson’s good work Thursday included the 42-yard interception return for a touchdown, followed soon after by a sack.

Thursday featured a drastic range of defensive plays – awesome a lot of the time, awful at other times.

There was plenty of awesomeness, including the Jackson pick after Gerald Willis applied pressure, the Shaq Quarterman strip sack that Garvin scooped up for a 9-yard touchdown return, the Jhavonte Dean interception, the Romeo Finley interception returned 83 yards for a TD, plus 10 tackles for loss in the first half, and some excellent work in the red zone.

But there were also too many long runs against a defense that had permitted opponents to average only 2.1 per carry entering the game. Pat Bethel was sealed off on one of those four runs of 15-plus yards in the first half, with Zach McCloud missing a tackle.

Amari Carter took a bad angle on another of those chunk runs. D.J. Ivey was faked out on another run.

On the 17-yard TD run by North Carolina quarterback Chaz Surratt, a play in which three backs lined up behind him, Garvin was hoodwinked and ran the wrong way, Quarterman was blocked and Redwine couldn’t make the tackle before Surratt got in the end zone.

Still, there was a lot of good, even beyond the six plays that brought out the turnover chain. Mike Smith played very well in relief of Quarterman, who departed in the third quarter with an ankle injury, before Smith also left with an injury. Willis as usual, was impactful, but he also had two damaging 15-yard penalties.

In all three of his appearances this season, Perry has made a handful of pinpoint throws that verify the universal belief that he has a much higher ceiling than Malik Rosier. His five-yard TD throw to Darrell Langham, in the back of the end zone, was impressive because there was so little margin for error on that one.

And let’s not make this too complicated: Perry looks every bit as mobile and elusive as Rosier, and his accuracy is significantly better. Rosier’s accuracy simply wasn’t good enough on intermediate routes. On Thursday, Perry was 4 for his first 5 on passes thrown between 12 and 30 yards.

And he was a magician avoiding a sack on two plays, including one on a 3rd and 26 that could have been as sack but ended up being a 13-yard run.

Perry’s interception, though a risky throw into double coverage, was more a case of a great play by North Carolina in coverage on Mike Harley Jr. than an egregious error.

“I could have gone to my third progression, but I put it on his chest,” Perry told WQAM’s Bailey. “We talked about it.”

But Perry’s earlier fumble was something that can’t happen. Perry was very hard on himself on the sidelines after the interception, ESPN reported.

Perry threw only 12 times, completing eight for 125 yards, the one touchdown and the one interception.

Credit Rosier for comporting himself well Thursday, including encouraging teammates on the sideline, as ESPN’s Laura Rutledge reported. He’s assuredly disappointed about losing his job not long after a five touchdown game against Toledo, and the media might never have a chance to talk to him again in the coming weeks, but the young man is classy.

Offensive ruminations: Who would have thought, back in February, that guard Hayden Mahoney would be UM’s most consistent offensive lineman? He was once again very good in the run game, including one textbook block that opened a big hole for DeeJay Dallas…. Though Harley couldn’t haul in the Perry interception, he clearly has developed as a receiver, with two catches for 70 yards. Perry loves throwing to him… Good to see Langham get involved (three catches, 33 yards) after not having an offensive snap last week…

Though Richt spoke of wanting to get Lorenzo Lingard and Cam Davis more involved, neither had a carry – largely because Travis Homer and Dallas were running well. Dallas closed with 114 yards on 11 carries (a 10.4 average), and Homer with 14 for 88, including the 56-yard run that set up Dallas’ four-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Defensive ruminations: The three defensive touchdowns tied the most ever in a game by the Hurricanes. Before Thursday, it last happened in a game against West Virginia in 2000… North Carolina finished with 215 yards rushing on 40 attempts (5.4 per carry). UM entered allowing just 78.8 rushing yards per game over its first four….

Michael Jackson allowed a completion on a fourth and long. He entered having allowed only five completions this season, but those completions have gone for 99 yards… Bradley Jennings’ fumble recovery in the final minute accounted for UM’s sixth takeaway of the night....

Finley has done a terrific job in coverage at UM’s new striker position this season. According to Herald correspondent Daniel Gould, he entered Thursday having not allowed a completion in his coverage area this season. And he had the pick six against UNC…. Jaquan Johnson could have played but was kept out to give his hamstring a second week to heal.

Here’s my post with lots of Thursday Dolphins nuggets.

Here’s my look at what Heat center Hassan Whiteside did to improve his game this summer, including his work with an NFL All-Pro.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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