Hurricanes’ passing game struggles without Thomas
MIAMI GARDENS — Three days after losing one of their top offensive playmakers, the Hurricanes had to begin the work of truly moving on without receiver and punt returner Jeff Thomas.
Thomas, a sophomore, was dismissed from the Hurricanes program on Wednesday after some reported friction with Miami’s coaching staff.
Saturday, the Hurricanes took the field for the first time without him, hosting Pittsburgh in their regularseason finale at Hard Rock Stadium.
And the results were somewhat mixed.
Without Thomas — and with all four of their scholarship tight ends nursing various injuries — the Hurricanes went with a starting receivers group of Darrell Langham, Lawrence Cager, Mike Harley and Brian Hightower.
While Cager has started every game for the Hurricanes this season, Saturday marked Langham and Harley’s third starts, while it was Hightower’s second start of the year.
The Hurricanes receivers struggled, dropping six passes from redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry, who finished the day 6 of 24 for 52 yards.
Harley, a former standout at St. Thomas Aquinas, had three of those drops, while Cager, Evidence Njoku and Langham each had one.
“I just let [the receivers] know we’ve got to work on it,” Perry said. “Not just right now, but after practice, we have to put in more time. It’s not all on them. A lot of those were on me. We’re going to get better at it.”
Thomas had been Miami’s leading receiver, with 35 catches for 563 yards.
On special teams, though, Miami didn’t seem to miss Thomas too much.
Sophomore running back DeeJay Dallas, who had handled six punt returns for the Hurricanes coming into the game, took over as Miami’s starting punt returner after Thomas’ departure and had an impact early.
Dallas returned a secondquarter Pittsburgh punt 65 yards for a touchdown that helped stake the Hurricanes to a 10-0 lead.
Dallas’ return came a week after Thomas notched a 51-yard punt return touchdown in the Hurricanes’
38-14 win over Virginia Tech.
It’s the first time since
2005 the Hurricanes have returned punts for touchdowns in back-to-back games. That year, Devin Hester and Quadtrine Hill had punt returns against Temple and North Carolina, respectively.
Special teams delivers: Dallas wasn’t the only one to put together some solid play on special teams.
The Hurricanes — who have struggled to win the field-position battle throughout the season — got some solid punts from Zach Feagles.
Feagles, who alternated punts with Jack Spicer, averaged 42.8 yards on his five punts, with three of those pinning Pittsburgh inside its own 20-yard line. Feagles also had a season-long
Spicer, meanwhile, averaged 35.5 yards per punt.
Miami’s other special teams highlights included a bone-crushing block by Travis Homer on Dallas’ touchdown return and a
37-yard field goal from freshman Bubba Baxa.
“I felt that block when I ran by it,” Dallas smiled. “You know how you can feel wind? I felt that. I was like, ‘Dang.’ … He’s a physical dude. That’s just what he does.”
Seniors honored: Before kickoff Saturday, the Hurricanes honored 26 of their seniors and redshirt juniors that played their final home game at Hard Rock Stadium.
Maligned quarterback Malik Rosier, who was Miami’s starter last season and struggled at times this year before before being replaced by Perry in the starting lineup, received some of the loudest cheers when he was introduced. Also receiving loud cheers were preseason All-American safety Jaquan Johnson, cornerback Michael Jackson, safety Sheldrick Redwine and defensive tackle Gerald Willis, all of whom have been stalwarts for the Hurricanes’ fourth-ranked defense.
Also honored Saturday were receiver Chad Allen, kicker Marco Baeza, snapper Jordan Butler, kicker Alejandro Cardenas, cornerback Jhavonte Dean, fullback Danny Dominguez, center Tyler Gauthier, fullback Trayone Gray, defensive end Demetrius Jackson, offensive lineman Jahair Jones, Langham, linebacker Terry McCray, receiver Tyler Murphy, defensive lineman John O’Boyle, defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo, linebacker Mike Smith, punter Jack Spicer, offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis and long snapper Sam York.
DeeJay Dallas was called on to fill former Hurricanes punt returner Jeff Thomas’ spot on Saturday against Pittsburgh and delivered a 65-yard touchdown.