UM Hur­ri­canes trounce Pan­thers for sec­ond straight win,

De­spite of­fen­sive strug­gles in the first half, UM cruised to a 24-3 vic­tory against Pitts­burgh on Satur­day in their reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at Hard Rock Sta­dium.

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY SU­SAN MILLER DEG­NAN sdeg­[email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

De­spite the pain of a chaotic, frus­trat­ing sea­son, the Univer­sity of Mi­ami found the re­solve to fin­ish on top Satur­day at Hard Rock Sta­dium.

No mat­ter how bad it has been, and no mat­ter how chal­lenged the of­fense ap­peared at times Satur­day, these Canes have not quit.

The Hur­ri­canes ended their reg­u­lar sea­son on se­nior day by de­feat­ing Coastal Divi­sion cham­pion Pitts­burgh 24-3, po­si­tion­ing them­selves for a bet­ter bowl and go­ing into it with a two-game win- ning streak.

“Great vic­tory,” UM coach Mark Richt said. “All vic­to­ries are great. Very thank­ful for that. Very thank­ful for the fans who showed up and sup­ported us. That was very im­por­tant to us.”

Mi­ami (7-5, 4-4 At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence) will of­fi­cially learn its bowl des­ti­na­tion on Sun­day, Dec. 2. Pitt fin­ished 7-5 and 6-2.

The last time the Hur­ri­canes fin­ished 7-5 was in 2012, for­mer coach Al Golden’s sec­ond sea­son.

The win — an­chored by an­other out­stand­ing de­fen­sive per­for­mance and Travis Homer’s sea­son­high 168 yards and a touch­down on eight car­ries — felt es­pe­cially sweet for the Canes a year af­ter the Pan­thers ended Mi­ami’s un­de­feated sea­son in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale Thanks­giv­ing week­end in Pitts­burgh.

“I want to give credit to Pitt, in that they found a way to win the Coastal and they’ll rep­re­sent next week [against Clem­son], and I want to wish them the best,” Richt said. “A year ago we were the ones go­ing to the Coastal [cham­pi­onship] and got up­set at their house. … Our guys rose to the oc­ca­sion.”

The Canes’ de­fense, which had six sacks and 14 tack­les for loss, held Pitt to 200 to­tal yards and only 1.8 yards per carry.

“It was awe­some,” Richt said of the de­fen­sive per­for­mance. “They played their tails off.”

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Manny Diaz gushed about his play­ers at the postgame podium.

“Hard to be more proud of a de­fen­sive unit than what these guys did,” Diaz said. “We talked about the last home game and just go­ing out there and putting on a show. We’ve got a lot of guys that are fun to watch. We’ve got a lot of guys that are fun to coach.

“We felt like we had to re­pay ev­ery fan that was in the stands. Man, the sit­u­a­tions that they get put in and the way that they play, the way that they re­spond … 1 of 15 on third down:

It’s just awe­some, man. All of us as a coach­ing staff, we’re just so thank­ful to be able to coach these guys. This is a spe­cial unit. This is some­thing that does not come around very of­ten. This is a unit that should be ap­pre­ci­ated for years to come.”

Said se­nior cor­ner­back Michael Jack­son, who had two sacks: “We’re 7-5 but we’re not a 7-5 de­fense.’’

Af­ter trail­ing 10-0 at half­time, Pitts­burgh got its first points at 3:27 of the third quar­ter on a 40-yard field goal by Alex Kess­man. The drive was aided by a 15-yard per­sonal foul against UM line­backer Shaq Quar­ter­man and a 10-yard pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty by safety Sheldrick Red­wine.

“Other than that,” Richt said of the two de­fen­sive mishaps, “lights out.”

It only took 38 sec­onds for the Canes to strike back on Homer’s 64-yard sprint to the end zone for a 17-3 UM lead. The twoplay drive be­gan with an 11-yard pass from N’Kosi Perry to Homer.

Homer, a ju­nior, is now 31 yards from 1,000 for the sea­son.

“It should be ex­cit­ing,” he said. “But all credit goes to my of­fen­sive line. I couldn’t do it with­out them.

“I worked hard ev­ery day on the prac­tice field, [and] I’ve had good com­pe­ti­tion in the run­ning back room to keep push­ing us to go fur­ther and fur­ther. I know ev­ery run­ning back in that room, and me as well, is get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day.”

UM iced the vic­tory with a 3-yard touch­down rush by Dee­Jay Dal­las early in the fourth quar­ter to cul- mi­nate a seven-play, 81yard drive that was aided by a 41-yard rush by Perry.

Perry had his tough­est game since re­turn­ing to the start­ing lineup ear­lier this month. He com­pleted 6 of 24 passes for 52 yards, with no touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions. He ran five times for 46 yards.

The first half was an ugly, of­fen­sive strug­gle for both pro­grams.

Though Mi­ami had a 10-point lead, the Canes failed to score an of­fen­sive touch­down. In­stead, their points came on a 37-yard field goal from fresh­man Bubba Baxa and 65-yard punt re­turn by Dal­las.

Through two quar­ters that in­cluded a com­bined 12 com­ple­tions, 12 first downs and 12 punts, UM had 101 to­tal yards and Pitts­burgh 115.

Perry had com­pleted only 4 of 18 passes for 37 yards, but five of those passes were dropped.

Baxa kicked his field goal at 10:17 of the open­ing quar­ter — af­ter the of­fense drove 62 yards on six plays. Most of that drive came on a 47-yard sprint down the left side­line by Homer. UM gained an­other 54 yards the en­tire first half.

UM scored its next touch­down on Dal­las’ zig-zag punt re­turn at 9:08 of the sec­ond quar­ter, the first time Mi­ami has scored on punt re­turns in back-to-back weeks since Oc­to­ber 2005. For­mer Hur­ri­cane Jeff Thomas, who was dis­missed from the pro­gram on Wednes- day, scored on a 51-yard punt re­turn last week.

“To­day Dee­Jay re­ally stepped it up,” Richt said.

Of­fi­cials took plenty of time to re­view what they thought might be tar­get­ing by Homer on what was ac­tu­ally a crush­ing — and le­gal — block by the run­ning back.

UM led 10-0 af­ter of­fi­cials an­nounced there was no penalty.

Do the Canes have a pref­er­ence of bowls?

“Nah,” Michael Jack­son said. “But I ain’t gonna lie. I’d like to go some­where warm.”

AL DIAZ [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Hur­ri­canes de­fen­sive back Jaquan John­son rips the ball away from Pan­thers run­ning back Dar­rin Hall, who fum­bles in the first quar­ter on Satur­day at Hard Rock Sta­dium. UM’s de­fense shut down Pitts­burgh with six sacks and 14 tack­les for loss and held its of­fense to 200 to­tal yards.

AL DIAZ [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Hur­ri­canes run­ning back Travis Homer races past the Pan­thers de­fense on his way to a 64-yard touch­down in the third quar­ter. Homer gained 168 yards on eight car­ries for UM in the vic­tory against Pitts­burgh on Satur­day.

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