Thoughts, notes, reaction and postscripts after UM’s 38-14 win on Saturday at Virginia Tech, making the Canes bowl eligible and snapping a four-game losing streak:
▪ The day began with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit calling the Canes’ quarterback play “horrendous” and a trio of network analysts wondering why the Canes haven’t had a great QB in 16 years.
It ended with N’Kosi Perry displaying very promising signs despite being betrayed at times by his receivers and as usual, his pass protection.
It will take more time before we know exactly what UM has with Perry. But Saturday was quite encouraging.
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Though the stats were modest (21-34-171-2 touchdowns), Perry would have thrown for more than 300 yards and perhaps four touchdowns if Dee Wiggins hadn’t dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball that likely could have been a touchdown, if Travis Homer hadn’t dropped another pass that might have gone for a touchdown and if Darrell Langham hadn’t dropped a dart in the middle of the field.
But Perry and Langham both did exceptional work on Langham’s one-handed three-yard catch in the corner of the end zone.
What’s more, Perry ran the read option more effectively than he ever has this season. For the second week in a row, he didn’t throw an interception on the road. And he ran the ball with power and elusiveness, scampering for 13 yards to set up his short touchdown run.
With Clemson grad transfer Kelly Bryant set to visit Friday, Perry added a strong statement to his resume.
“I’m proud of him, can tell me exactly what’s going on out there,” Mark Richt told WQAM. “[Quarterbacks coach] Jon [Richt] does a really good job with all these young quarterbacks.”
Hours earlier, ESPN bemoaned the Canes’ situation at quarterback.
“The quarterback play has been horrendous,” Herbstreit said on College GameDay. “Offensive efficiency numbers are a disaster. Their defense is playing well enough to win. When’s the last Miami quarterback that was great, that was winning championships? I have to go all the way back to Ken Dorsey in 2002. Brad Kaaya was good but he wasn’t winning championships.”
ESPN’s David Pollack noted: “Since then, Central Florida has had Blake Bortles, [who’s] a first-round pick, and [current QB] McKenzie Milton. If you put McKenzie Milton on Miami, they would be national championship contender. They have to figure out that spot. They have to hit on quarterbacks and that’s where they’ve missed. And UCF has it and that’s why they’re at where they’re at.”
ESPN’s Desmond Howard said: “You would think Mark Richt would be able to get a quarterback. He’s a former quarterback. He’s a U guy, you would think he would be able to figure it out at least. Last year, we got a false impression on how good Miami was as a team because of how dominant their defense was. Once they played against Pitt and they couldn’t get the turnovers, that’s where weaknesses on the offensive side of the ball became exposed. You have to figure out the quarterback position.”
▪ UM’s offense looked the best it has in two months when it had no tight end in the game, following first-half injuries to Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory. The Canes spread the field with as many as four receivers at times and Perry looked very comfortable.
“We spread it out and pushed the tempo and it worked out great,” Perry told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr. “The people who filled in played their ass off.”
This is not to suggest the Canes should completely stop using a tight end, with two talented freshmen in the program. But it did give pause for thought.
▪ Any frustration over UM’s inability to beat out Georgia for four-star back Kenny McIntosh has been tempered by what we’ve seen from Cam Davis, who has displayed speed, vision and terrific instincts since UM started using him a week ago.
Davis, who ran 7 times for 77 yards, showed breakaway speed on his 42-yard TD run and his 16-yard TD reception from Perry was also impressive.
“He practiced extremely well when he had the opportunity,” Mark Richt told WQAM.
With another year of Homer (if he doesn’t turn pro), two more of DeeJay Dallas, plus as many as three more years of Davis and Lorenzo Lingard, the Canes appear in good shape at running back, even if they add only one in this class.
▪ Hayden Mahoney and Tyree St. Louis had excellent blocks on Davis’ 42-yard TD run, but this was again a mediocre day for the Canes in pass protection, with Navaughn Donaldson inexplicably running out of the play on a failed 3rd and 1 run, several other breakdowns, and others (tight end Mallory and fullback Trayone Gray) failing to pick up Virginia Tech blitzes. Donaldson’s false start was UM’s 16th such penalty this year.
And the Canes’ offensive line didn’t run block effectively early (10 carries, three yards) against a deplorable run defense before improving as the game went on. UM finished with 168 yards rushing (5.3 per carry), with Homer collecting 69 on 12 carries. Keep in mind that Pitt ran for 492 yards on Virginia Tech a week earlier.
▪ Jeff Thomas reportedly began the day in the doghouse – he didn’t start the game – but delivered the most electrifying play of the day with a 51-yard punt return for a touchdown, to go with four catches for 32 yards.
Wiggins started alongside Cager and Mike Harley Jr. Freshman Mark Pope, the only healthy five-star player on the roster (injured Lingard is the other), had his first college catch, an 11-yarder.
▪ Romeo Finley, who started ahead of Zach McCloud in the striker role, must be in any discussion of most improved UM player, and he made three particularly impressive plays Saturday, including a forced fumble that Sheldrick Redwine recovered.
▪ There was a lot to like defensively after a slow start: Trajan Bandy – who left briefly after being kicked in the throat - was very good in coverage, Joe Jackson had his sixth sack and Shaq Quarterman had an interception to set up UM’s first touchdown. Jhavonte Dean added a late interception in the end zone…
UM blitzed often and effectively, with Redwine collecting a late-game sack on a blitz….Tito Odenigbo replaced Pat Bethel as the starting defensive tackle opposite Gerald Willis.
But UM also missed linebacker Mike Pinckney, who was suspended for the game and said he took pain medication that he didn’t know was against NCAA rules and apparently resulted in a failed drug test. Mike Smith was obliterated on Tra Turner’s 20-yard touchdown run.
▪ With Jaren Williams’ suspension, all three of UM’s young quarterbacks (Perry, Williams and Cade Weldon) have all been suspended this year. Quarterbacks coach Jon Richt cannot be expected to babysit them 24/7, but it’s alarming that your three players at the position lack the maturity and discipline to follow the rules.
▪ ESPN’s Molly McGrath quoted Quarterman as saying there were numerous fights between offensive and defensive players in practice last week and quoted one unnamed defensive player as saying: “I don’t talk to them [offensive players] as much as I would like.”
▪ Richt, to WQAM’s Bailey: “It’s been the longest month of my coaching career - I can promise you that. I thanked them in the locker-room for holding it together. It wasn’t easy for anybody. To get this victory in the fashion we did was very impressive. In the locker-room after, I was shocked how excited they were about going to a bowl.
“We had no scholarship tight ends. We had to go a lot of four-receiver sets, a little bit of two backs with three receivers. A lot of things we had planned were not on the menu any more.”
UM closes at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at home against Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh.