Pay­back’s sweet

’Canes de­fense, Homer shine to avenge de­feat that ended 15-game streak

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Christy Cabr­era Chiri­nos South Florida Sun Sen­tinel ccabr­[email protected]­tinel.com; On Twit­ter @ChristyChiri­nos.

On a day in which they wanted to honor their se­niors and deal Pitts­burgh some pay­back for how the Pan­thers snapped their 15-game win streak a year ago, the Hur­ri­canes found them­selves deal­ing with some of the same of­fen­sive is­sues that have plagued them dur­ing what has turned out to be a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son.

For­tu­nately for Mi­ami, though, its de­fense — and run­ning back Travis Homer — came through for the Hur­ri­canes, again.

While Mi­ami's pass­ing game was stag­nant and the of­fense strug­gled to move the ball early in the reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale against Pitts­burgh, the Hur­ri­canes de­fense was an ab­so­lute force and Homer rushed for a game-high 168 yards to lift Mi­ami to a 24-3 win over the Pan­thers, who last week, clinched the ACC's Coastal Divi­sion crown.

Pitts­burgh came to Hard Rock Sta­dium on Satur­day af­ter­noon rid­ing a fourgame win streak and al­ready know­ing it was set to face Clem­son in next week's ACC Cham­pi­onship Game. The Hur­ri­canes, mean­while, were strug­gling, hav­ing lost four of their last five.

A year ago to the day, the Hur­ri­canes and Pan­thers roles were re­versed.

Mi­ami ar­rived at Heinz Field last Novem­ber rid­ing the mo­men­tum of that 15-game win streak. The Hur­ri­canes were, at the time, ranked No. 2 in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off Rank­ings and were cel­e­brat­ing hav­ing clinched the first Coastal Divi­sion ti­tle in pro­gram his­tory.

And Pitts­burgh, which at the time had just four wins, stunned the Hur­ri­canes, up­set­ting them, 24-14. That af­ter­noon, the Pan­thers dealt Mi­ami's cham­pi­onship hopes a blow and started what would ul­ti­mately be a four-game los­ing streak that in­cluded a loss to Clem­son in the ACC Cham­pi­onship, a loss to Wis­con­sin in the Orange Bowl and a loss to LSU in this year's sea­son opener in Ar­ling­ton, Texas.

Some might say the Hur­ri­canes (7-5, 4-4) haven't been quite the same since that day in Pitts­burgh, with Mi­ami strug­gling to beat most of its Power-5 op­po­nents, es­pe­cially on the road.

But on Satur­day, that wasn't the fo­cus for Mi­ami's play­ers and coaches, in­clud­ing coach Mark Richt, who has faced a firestorm of crit­i­cism af­ter Mi­ami en­dured a fourgame los­ing streak that spanned late Oc­to­ber and early Novem­ber.

“A year ago, we were the ones go­ing to the Coastal and got up­set at their house. They're the ones go­ing to the Coastal this year and got up­set at our house,” Richt said. “I think our guys rose to the oc­ca­sion. It was very ob­vi­ous that it was a dom­i­nat­ing de­fen­sive per­for­mance and I thought it was an dom­i­nat­ing spe­cial teams per­for­mance as well.”

While Homer's per­for­mance was among the best he's put to­gether as a Hur­ri­cane, some of Mi­ami's of­fen­sive woes were on full dis­play against the Pan­thers, with quar­ter­back N'Kosi Perry — who was mak­ing his third straight start and sixth start of the year — com­plet­ing just 6-of-24 passes for 52 yards.

Perry's re­ceivers — who were with­out the dis­missed Jeff Thomas — didn't help him very much, drop­ping at least six passes Satur­day.

But while the pass­ing game strug­gled, Homer, a for­mer Oxbridge Academy stand­out, helped key a solid rush­ing at­tack that found its stride in the sec­ond half.

With the Hur­ri­canes up a touch­down af­ter Dee­Jay Dal­las scored on a 65-yard punt re­turn early in the sec­ond quar­ter, Homer broke through the Pitts­burgh de­fense to score on a 64-yard run that pushed Mi­ami's lead to, 17-3, with 2:49 left in the third quar­ter.

Homer, who on Satur­day passed Hur­ri­canes great and Dol­phins run­ning back Frank Gore to move up to No. 12 on Mi­ami's all-time rush­ing list, now needs just just 31 yards to reach 1,000 on the sea­son and 21 yards to reach 2,000 in his Mi­ami ca­reer.

He'll have the Hur­ri­canes bowl game in which to hit those goals.

“It should be ex­cit­ing,” Homer said. “But all credit goes to my of­fen­sive line. I can't do it with­out them. … I worked hard ev­ery day. On the prac­tice field, I had good com­pe­ti­tion and in the run­ning back room, to keep push­ing us to keep go­ing fur­ther and fur­ther. I know ev­ery run­ning back in that room, and me as well, is get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day.”

Dal­las would add a 3-yard touch­down run in the fourth to round out the scor­ing for Mi­ami, whose de­fense did most of the heavy lift­ing.

The Hur­ri­canes held the Pan­thers (7-5, 6-2) to 200 yards of to­tal of­fense, in­clud­ing just 69 rush­ing yards. They sacked Pick­ett six times, held Pitts­burgh to just 1 of 15 on third-down conversions and to­taled 14 tack­les for loss.

“That's some­thing I'll re­mem­ber for the rest of my life,” said de­fen­sive tackle Gerald Wil­lis, who had four tack­les and a sack. “We shut out Pitt ex­cept for the field goal, but we kept them out of the end zone. It was great for us. We fo­cused on the run all week long and we did stop the run."

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