After chomping at the bit for close to eight months to get back on the football field, the University of Miami didn’t look so great Saturday.
The No. 18 Hurricanes came away with a 41-13 win over visiting Bethune Cookman University – an FCS level school – but Miami put on a less than stellar performance in front of the 50,454 fans in attendance for the season opener at Hard Rock Stadium.
UM (1-0), which will travel to Arkansas State next week, rode running backs Mark Walton and Travis Homer. Both backs eclipsed the 100-yard mark – Walton leading with 148 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries while Homer added 108 yards on 11 carries.
Redshirt junior quarterback Malik Rosier played into the fourth quarter and finished 17-of-28 for 217 yards with three touchdowns. He also finished with 41 rushing yards in his first game as the Hurricanes’ full-time starter.
Evan Shirreffs spelled Rosier in the fourth quarter and played a handful of series – completing one pass for 16 yards but mostly handing the ball off to Homer and Trayone Gray, who finished with 25 yards on three carries.
Miami led by as much as 31-3 early in the third quarter – after Walton’s second touchdown run of the day – and punctuated the season-opening win with a 50-yard Michael Badgley field goal with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter.
Looking beyond the numbers, you saw a Hurricanes offense that committed avoidable penalties in key situations; an offensive line that is still looking for its best five; and a defense that had issues finishing tackles and getting off the field on third and fourth downs.
Malik Rosier left a lot to be desired: Since Brad Kaaya informed everyone that he would forgo his senior year, the talk was “who would be the next starting quarterback?”.
Most thought it would be true freshman N’Kosi Perry. And one could glean that Miami’s coaching staff left the doors wide open for the 18-year-old to come in and grab the job. Not just because they said as much, but because of the way Richt said he altered his fall practices – breaking up the installation of the offense into smaller increments so that the youngster could get up to speed.
Apparently Perry wasn’t ready enough to be handed the ball – as a starter or a backup, since he didn’t see any action Saturday.
So, the keys to the offense belong to Rosier.
Watching Rosier Saturday against Cookman, he didn’t set the world on fire with any one aspect of his performance.
His completion percentage – 60 percent – was slightly above average. Many of his early completions came via check downs and short passes in the flats. When he did throw downfield, the results were mixed. While he didn’t commit any turnovers, he did miss on a couple of deep throws – either through an overthrow or bad ball placement – that would’ve given fans more confidence in him as the No. 1 signal caller.
“My coaches said it was great but it’s not championship level,” Rosier said after the game. “They said I made the right decisions but there were a couple small things that I have to fix. There were a couple balls I missed…and in the big games those are the kind of things that can make or break a drive.”
To his credit, Rosier did show that he’s a more than capable runner when he pulls the ball on read-option or run-pass option plays. His first play of the day was a 23-yard dash around the outside. He is athletic enough to make opposing defenses account for him, but he must show a better command in the passing game if the Hurricanes are going to live up to expectations this season.
The defense did too much bending: The Hurricanes defense received plenty of hype coming into the season – with some national outlets calling Miami’s front seven “one of the best in the country”.
Multiple players were named to preseason award watch lists and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has been regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation.
However, for a group that was touted as such, it did too much bending Saturday.
Bethune Cookman amassed 350 total yards of offense Saturday. The Wildcats ran the ball 30 times for 121 yards – meaning UM gave up four yards per carry to a MEAC school – and each time BCU scored, it was on a 10-plus-play, 50-plus-yard drive.
On the Wildcats’ third quarter touchdown drive, they converted three third-downs and methodically drove down the field. BCU had only one “chunk play” on the drive – a 41-yard completion Jamaruz Thompkins and capped the 11-play, 75-yard drive with a Michael Jones 1-yard touchdown run.
Sophomore linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, who led the team with eight total tackles Saturday, said that they needed a wake-up call.
“The fact that [Bethune Cookman] put up points against us brings us back down to earth,” Quarterman said when asked how he felt about not being able to shut out Bethune Cookman.
“Since the offseason, the media and everyone has been saying how great the defense is…but we have to realize that we have to go out there and perform. It’s up to us to shut people out. We can’t play like that against anybody else.”
Darrell Langham and Lawrence Cager showed what they can do: Two players that Coach Richt and receivers coach Ron Dugans have spoken of since the spring of 2017 were Langham and Lawrence Cager.
Richt said that he wanted to see his big receivers – Cager is 6-foot-5 and Langham is 6-foot-4 – play like “big receivers are supposed to play”.
Both did that Saturday. Each had three receptions and a touchdown in the red zone.
Cager’s performance Saturday confirmed what sources said was a “great fall camp” for the redshirt sophomore. Having missed the 2016 season with a torn ACL, Cager has returned to a form that earned him a starting spot on the team’s depth chart.
Having tall, big-bodied receivers creates matchup nightmares for opposing secondaries when the offense is in the red zone.
Mark Walton may have some help: Seeing Homer rush for over 100 yards Saturday was a welcomed sight for anyone wearing orange and green.
He saw limited action as a ball carrier during his first year, but his role on the team in 2017 exponentially increased once Joe Yearby decided to turn pro and Gus Edwards elected to transfer.
Homer, a former four-star recruit out of Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, showed good balance and toughness as a ball carrier against Cookman – breaking tackles and not going down on first contact.
Walton is very much Miami’s offensive bell cow, but Homer’s ability to spell him in moments – like he did Saturday when Walton briefly left the game with a minor knee contusion – will add much-needed depth to Miami’s offense.
Freshmen contributions: Freshman offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson showed fans Saturday what coaches and teammates have been raving about all offseason when he ran downfield and made multiple blocks to help spring Walton on a long run.
Also, freshman offensive lineman Corey Gaynor saw time with the No. 1 offense when he was plugged in at left guard in place of senior Trevor Darling.
“Corey’s a football player,” Richt said postgame. “There may have been one play where he was a little out of position on a blocking assignment, but overall he did a great job…you’re talking about a freshman that’s been taking reps at left guard, center and right guard. So I was very impressed with him today.”
Freshman defensive end Jonathan Garvin recorded a tackle for loss and freshman defensive back Amari Carter finished with four total tackles – including the game’s hardest hit, which forced a fumble.