Is there such thing as a good hangover?
Probably not. It sounds like an oxymoron.
The No. 11 Miami Hurricanes are hoping that they can have a “good hangover” though, having defeated their bitter rivals for the first time in seven years, UM hopes to avoid a letdown Saturday when it hosts Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium at 3:30 p.m.
Miami (4-0, 2-0 ACC) has typically had to deal with an “FSU Hangover” – where it would lose the game (or games) following its physical showdown with the Seminoles. The team would seemingly be in a “funk” and have a bad stretch of performances – like last year’s four-game losing streak that began with the 20-19 loss to Florida State.
Instead, the Canes slew their personal dragon. But they can’t bathe in their own press clippings because the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-0) and their triple-option offense will present a unique challenge that will tell a lot about the makeup of this Miami team.
Homer Is RB1; Atkins Moved To Scholarship
Whatever the Canes do the rest of the way this year, it’ll be without junior running back Mark Walton.
The school announced Sunday that Walton will have season-ending surgery on his right ankle after injuring it against Florida State. Walton played the game on an injured left ankle, which he sustained in Miami’s win over Toledo on Sept. 30.
Stepping into the role as UM’s No. 1 running back is sophomore Travis Homer.
Homer said he’s ready to step up and meet the challenge of being the No. 1 back.
“I am very sad that this happened to Mark. I hope he has a speedy recovery, my best wishes are with him,” Homer said to reporters Tuesday. “I haven’t seen him face-to-face yet, but I sent him some texts. We both agree that I need to step up and that we are going to keep holding it down for him.”
Homer filled the role of Walton’s backup through the first four games of the season, totaling 207 yards and three touchdowns on 25 attempts.
Now the former 4-star prospect out of Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy will be tasked with carrying the rushing load.
Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said he feels comfortable handing the ball to Homer much more frequently because of the way he goes about preparing himself to play.
“Travis is a very serious young man. He takes practices very serious. He takes his assignments very serious. He’s very business-like,” Richt said. “He knows what to do, he knows how to do it. He’s in unbelievable condition. He loves playing the game. He loves playing special teams. He’s one of those ‘no, I’m not coming out’ kind of guys.”
Homer has shown flashes of being a No. 1 caliber back this year. His 40-yard touchdown at Duke and his timely runs against Florida State showcased his speed and physical running style.
“He is a tough, physical football player and he does a great job in pass protection,” Miami offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said.
Having Homer to turn to in Walton’s absence is great, but the Canes now have to face their Achilles heel head-on – depth at running back.
Miami was already considered thin at running back even when Walton was fully healthy, so losing him for the year means Richt will have to get creative to have some sort of a bullpen of ball carriers.
Behind Homer is redshirt junior Trayone “Choc” Gray, who missed the 2016 season with a knee injury and has been little-used this year. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Gray has the physical tools to be a very productive rusher, but things haven’t gone his way throughout his college career.
“I think he has earned the opportunity. He’s earned the right and now he has to take advantage of it,” Brown said. “I’m going to give him every opportunity to come into the game. He’s had a really good week in practice. He’s worked his butt off. We finally took his knee brace off, which I think is a confidence booster for him. He can move better and he can bend better.”
To add depth, Miami did some reshuffling to its roster.
The Canes moved freshman DeeJay Dallas to running back – a move the coaching staff has flirted with since the versatile athlete got on campus in the spring.
UM also put walk-on running back Crispian Atkins on scholarship. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound redshirt sophomore spent the 2015 season ASA College Miami before transferring to Miami.
Atkins, who hasn’t seen any game action as a Hurricane, is probably more of a “break glass in case of emergency, insurance policy” while Dallas could actually be used this year.
“DeeJay is very talented and very athletic and we knew that coming in,” Brown said. “We kind of talked about playing him at receiver and running back before the season started. I think he’s done a really good job of trying to grasp the system…I’m going to play the guy that helps us the most and can help us in all situations.”
Banged Up Canes
Beating the Seminoles came with a steep price tag.
Besides losing Walton for the rest of the season, the Canes have a laundry list of players who are dealing with some sort of injury following the game.
Freshman offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson left the FSU game in the second half with a lower leg injury and was seen in a walking boot afterward. The 6-foot-5, 345-pound Miami Central High alum did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday and is said to be questionable for Saturday’s game.
“Ankle sprains, you kind of have to go day-by-day and see where they are,” Richt said Tuesday. “Right now, I’d say he’s questionable.”
Fellow freshman lineman Corey Gaynor subbed in at right guard in Donaldson’s absence against Florida State and will be inserted into the starting lineup this weekend if Donaldson can’t go.
Defensive backs Sheldrick Redwine and Dee Delaney are also dealing with injuries sustained this past Saturday.
Richt has been mum about their status – going back to his Sunday teleconference. He didn’t offer much of an update when speaking to reporters after practice this week either.
“Redwine, Delaney, I can’t say status, so much on them. I’d just say day-by-day,” Richt said. “We do the injury [report] deal, Thursday is kind of the day for that.”
When asked if Redwine had sustained a concussion, Richt quickly threw everyone off the topic.
“I don’t talk about all that. You guys can snoop around and figure it out,” Richt said.
Richt did confirm that sophomore receiver Ahmmon Richards’ status for Saturday’s game is questionable.
Richards dealt with a hamstring injury during fall camp that lingered and forced him to miss the first game of the year and be limited against Toledo.
“Ahmmon [Richards] is struggling right now. He’s not 100 percent,” Richt said Tuesday when asked about an increased role for Darrell Langham.
“He may play, but can he go the whole game? Ahmmon Richards, if he was 100-percent healthy, probably would have been in the game on that last play. But Ahmmon was not able to do that. So how far along is he? Did he get set back? We’ve got to find out. We gave him the day off today, to rest and to try and heal down a little bit.”
Syracuse Kickoff Set
The ACC announced this week that Miami’s October 21 game against Syracuse will kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium.
The game will be aired on one of ESPN’s family of networks (ABC, ESPN, or ESPN 2). The network designation will be announced after the Georgia Tech game.
Berrios Named ACC Receiver of the Week
While Darrell Langham was the obvious choice for the role of “hero” in Miami’s dramatic, losing-streak-snapping 24-20 victory over rival Florida State, senior receiver Braxton Berrios was in the best supporting role.
After his team-leading eight receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns, Berrios was named the ACC Receiver of the Week – the conference announced the day after the game.
It was the first such honor for “BB8”, who became the first UM player to score a touchdown reception in each of his first four games of the season since Reggie Wayne did in 2000 as well as the first Canes to record a touchdown catch in five straight games since Leonard Hankerson did in 2010.
Berrios said he’s enjoyed some of the fruits of his labors from his dominant performance at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“It’s truly been incredible,” said Berrios, who is leading Miami with 18 receptions for 282 yards and five touchdowns. “Gino Torretta reached out to me…so many guys have reached out…it’s been a cool few days. We basked in all its glory Saturday night and I’d say Sunday, as well. Ever since then it’s been [about] Georgia Tech.”
“In years past when we’ve lost to Florida State, there’s been a hangover. We’ve lost a few games after that. Now, this year it can’t be a good hangover,” Berrios said. “We can’t rest our hat, or stop working because we got that win. Now we have to still move on and try to turn that page and not let that game affect our next.”