It was the final game of the 2018 schedule for the University of Miami Hurricanes. Saturday’s contest against the Pitt Panthers represented more than just an ending of a season. The game was the final home appearance for the Hurricanes in Hard Rock Stadium this season, moonlighting as Senior Day for a large part of UM’s roster. The lingering resentment after the Panthers ruined the Canes’ bid for a perfect season in 2017 still resonates. With Pitt scheduled to take on Clemson next week in the ACC Championship, the Hurricanes aimed to curb the Panthers’ momentum.
This time around it was the Hurricanes that delivered a disheartening blow to the Panthers with a 24-3 victory on home field.
Regardless of the result, a healthy portion of Miami’s fanbase will qualify this season as a disappointment for a myriad of reasons. In spite of the setbacks, discontent and upheaval, the young core of this Miami program is talented enough to elevate their game moving forward. Some of those positive staples include a couple of guys in our Three Stars this week.
After seeing his caries take a significant dive, RB DeeJay Dallas found an alternative way to make some noise today. The sophomore returned a Pitt punt in the second quarter all the way to the house for a 67-yard touchdown, the first punt return TD of his collegiate career. The Brunswick, Georgia native would add a touchdown in the second half to cap off a productive day. Dallas would finish the game with 39 rushing yards on eight carries with two total touchdowns.
Turning in yet another solid performance, DE Joe Jackson seems to have remembered last year’s disappointment vividly. Jackson came around the corner of the Panthers formation, chasing down Pitt QB Kenny Pickett for a big sack on third down on the first drive of the game. That would become a common sight for the remainder of the evening. Big Joe was a force off the edge for the Hurricanes, setting the edge against the Panthers’ run game, putting his matchup on roller skates and pinning his ears back to get after the passer. When the scoreboard read 0:00, Jackson left Hard Rock Stadium with six tackles, two TFLs, 2.5 sacks and more QB pressure than an elephant in leggings. It was another signature performance from the junior, one that will be memorable if this is indeed Jackson’s final home game in a Hurricane uniform.
You know it’s coming eventually. You can bottle up No. 24 a couple of times a game, but soon enough, the back is going to break a big one down field that pumps life throughout the offense. Today, that came on Homer’s 64-yard run in the third quarter. RB Travis Homer bulldozed his way through would-be tackles on his way to a productive campaign on the ground. We know, the junior lost a fumble in the second quarter that derailed Miami’s momentum. However, he more than made up for this with a jarring crackback block on DeeJay Dallas’ punt return touchdown. Homer also provided a 47-yard gain on a carry in the first quarter.
With 21.0 yards-per-carry, rushing for a season-high 168 yards, it was the quintessential performance from the do-it-all back.
LB Shaq Quarterman, Miami’s leader on defense, continues to be Mr. Everything. He can talk the talk, as we saw with an exchange of pleasantries between the two teams earlier. Of course, he can also walk the walk, as indicative of his play in this matchup. Whether dropping off in coverage or blitzing off the edge, Quarterman was a factor in just about every play on defense — which you can see in his eight tackles on the day. The middle linebacker was also able generate pressure on Pitt QB Kenny Pickett to collect a sack assist.
What more would you expect out of S Jaquan Johnson than what he produced today? Symbolic of much of his collegiate career with UM, the Miami Killian Senior star was in on plays at all levels of the field. Jaquan Johnson forced a fumble that was recovered by CB Trajan Bandy to get the Hurricanes defense off the field. From coming up to the line of scrimmage to provide run support to dropping back over top in coverage as the last line of defense to securing tackles in the middle of the field. Jaquan Johnson’s final game in front of the home crowd will read on the stat sheet with 10 tackles, yet his presence and leadership can’t be quantified into a particular column. Unlike Blockbuster and Radio Shack, Miami’s ‘Franchise’ will not be forgotten or abandoned. It’s going to be odd not to see No. 4 roaming on defense next season, but it was great to see him turn in another remarkable performance.
It was only fitting that, on Senior Day, DT Gerald Willis turned in yet another awe-inspiring performance. UM’s star defensive tackle played all the hits that made him a fan favorite this season. Displacing Pitt offensive linemen on his way to pressuring QB Kenny Pickett. Hustling down the line of scrimmage to finish plays. His speed rush between the guard and the center to flush Picket off his mark constantly this afternoon. In his final game in front of the UM crowd, No. 9 picked up four tackles, a sack, and walked off into the South Florida night.
With the season nearly in the books, it’d be a crime if CB Trajan Bandy didn’t make an All-ACC or create a discussion as an All-American caliber player. Muddy once again served as the embodiment of a no-fly zone — ripping through Pitt receivers to break up passes, flying down into the box to make a tackle and ultimately being an overall nuisance to the Panthers’ passing game. Tallying five tackles, a TFL, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery, the floodgates of praise are just beginning to open for one of the best corners in the land.
For the first time since he arrived to the U, we’re not going to use any King of Pop references. Although CB Michael Jackson shares a name with the artist known for Thriller, Beat It and Billie Jean, the cornerback from Alabama has been a hitmaker in his own right, growing into a NFL corner in his four seasons as a Hurricane. This was the typical Mike Jack game in that he was tested less than a handful of times and allowed a catch before closing up shop for the remainder of the day. Well, aside from the CB screaming off the corner to pile up two sacks — a career high. Jackson’s final stat line reads four tackles, modest stats, but the biggest stat — 0 TDs allowed — is what you should focus on from the final home game for Michael Jackson, Miami Hurricanes’ cornerback.
Returning from last weekend’s suspension, LB Michael Pinckney was back to his usual form. Slamming into the pile, making his presence felt as often as possible, No. 56 finished this evening with eight tackles.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!