College Featured Miami Hurricanes

Miami Ends Regular Season With 24-3 Win Over No. 24 Pittsburgh

With all that has gone wrong for the University of Miami this season – and there’s a laundry list of negatives – it had to feel good to end things on a high note.

Led by DeeJay Dallas’ 110 total scrimmage yards and two total touchdowns along with Travis Homer‘s 168 rushing yards on just eight carries – Miami was able to send its seniors off with a 24-3 victory and exact some revenge on visiting No. 24/25 Pittsburgh Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

Despite the latest gut-punch of the abrupt departure of sophomore wide receiver Jeff Thomas earlier this week, the Canes looked more like the team the 59,606 fans in attendance Saturday hoped to see all season – keeping the Panthers out of the end zone and holding Pitt to just 200 total yards of offense while recording 14 tackles-for-loss and six sacks.

Miami head coach Mark Richt quickly heaped praise on his defense postgame as their stats were rattled off during a question.

“Wonderful. It was awesome, they played their tails off,” Richt interjected.

The Canes defense, which ranks among the nation’s best in tackles-for-loss this season, also forced a fumble and held Pitt well below its average rushing total (247 yards per game) with just 69 yards on 38 attempts – a far cry different from 2017 when the Panthers snapped Miami’s 10-game winning streak and sent the team on what became a three-game spiral.

“A year ago we [won the ACC Coastal Division] and were going to the [ACC Championship game] and got upset at their house, this year [Pittsburgh] is going and they got upset at our house…so I think our guys rose to the occasion,” Richt said.

“It was obvious that it was a dominating defensive performance and I think it was a dominating special teams performance, too.”

The Hurricanes defense looked every bit of dominant Saturday – swarming around Pitt ball carriers, getting pressure in Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett’s face, and quickly corralling receivers. Where Miami’s defense was truly able to shine was third-down efficiency, allowing Pittsburgh to convert just one of 15 third-down attempts – the team’s stingiest performance in that category this year.

Senior safety Jaquan Johnson recorded a game-high 10 total tackles; junior linebacker Michael Pinckney finished with eight total stops; junior defensive end Joe Jackson had 2.5 sacks to go along with six tackles; senior defensive tackle Gerald Willis had four tackles and a sack; and senior cornerback Michael Jackson Sr. also added a pair of sacks.

Canes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said he felt that Miami could have a lot of success defensively against Pitt if they did one thing in particular.

“We kept saying, ‘get them to third down, get them to third down’ because we felt that we really could dominate them on third down, and sure enough we did.”

Diaz also gave his defense the ultimate compliment postgame.

“It’s hard to be [prouder] of our defensive unit. We talked about just going out there and just putting on a show for the last home game. We felt like we had to repay every fan that was in the stands. This is a special unit…a group like this doesn’t come around very often and should be appreciated for years to come. At this school, that’s hard because there have been some amazing defenses that have come through here. But these guys deserve to be looked at as their peers.”

“We have our part in our record not being what it should be, but they’ve put something on tape over a 12-game season that they can be proud of for the rest of their lives.”

Michael Jackson summed it up best.

“We’re 7-5, but we’re not a 7-5 defense,” the senior defensive back said.

And what motivated Miami to put on such a dominated performance Saturday? A Friday night speech from Jaquan Johnson.

Offensive Woes

The defense didn’t look 7-5, but UM’s offense looked like its 7-5 record Saturday.

Miami could only muster a 3-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and was only able to hold a 10-0 halftime lead because of Dallas’ 65-yard punt return for a score.

Canes quarterback N’Kosi Perry struggled to connect with receivers – partly because of a handful of overthrown passes and partly because his receivers had a tough day holding on to the football.

Perry ended up completing six of his 24 passes for 52 yards. His most effective play of the day was a 41-yard designed run early in the fourth quarter, which sparked a 7-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that Dallas capped with a 3-yard plunge into the end zone.

Majority of Miami’s offensive production came from Homer. The physical back chewed up a game-high rushing total by averaging 21 yards-per-carry and moved just 31 yards shy of capturing his first 1,000-yard college season.

Even when the ball wasn’t in his hands, Homer helped Miami score. It was a monstrous Homer block during Dallas’ scoring punt return that cleared the path. The block was so ferocious that it drew a penalty flag for targeting, but officials reviewed and ruled it a clean hit and upheld the score.

Aside from Dallas and Homer, Miami’s offense didn’t get much production. Freshman Cam Davis had eight carries for 15 yards, senior Trayone Gray racked up 25 yards during the fourth quarter, and Mike Harley led the team with two catches for 18 yards but there were at least six dropped passes on catchable balls.

Richt, who’s been the recipient of much flack for his unimaginative play-calling, said that the team just has to do better.

“We ran for almost 300 yards – which is great – but we couldn’t get it going throwing and catching. And that’s what you gotta do – you gotta throw and catch. We had a couple times we missed some open people. We had a couple times where we hit guys right in the heart and they didn’t catch it. We just couldn’t gain momentum throwing the football. We’re playing a lot of young guys but we’re playing some veterans too. We’ve gotta do better.”

Getting Help

One area where Dallas is doing better is his mental health.

The sophomore battled with a fumbling issue – starting with a pair of drops during the home loss to Duke and another during the road loss to Georgia Tech.

Losing control of the ball had not been an issue for the young ball carrier (which is probably why he carved out a role in the offense his first season on campus) but the fumbles had definitely taken its toll on him.

After Saturday’s game, Dallas spoke about how the fumbles, which he said he had never experienced throughout his entire football career, got to him and how Canes offensive coordinator/running backs coach Thomas Brown encouraged him to see Miami’s staff sports psychologist.

“Tonight, DeeJay stepped it up. He’d kind of his old self – with his great spirit. I say it all the time, he loves football, he loves this team, he loves this school, he loves his teammates and his coaches…he’s just been solid since we were recruiting him.”

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

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