Miami Hurricanes thankful for true freshmen in season-opener

Ahmmon Richards celebrates the first catch of his Hurricanes career. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

Ahmmon Richards celebrates the first catch of his Hurricanes career. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

[Sunday: Richt reviews FAMU win via phone chat]

[Five things we learned from FAMU win | Video]

[George column: Welcome to the Richt era]

[Kaaya, RBs show potential of Richt’s offense]

[Game story: Hurricanes run it up on Rattlers]

About 90 minutes before his first college game, Shaq Quarterman tried to get a feel for the place — and the moment.

“I like to kneel down, actually feel the grass with my hands and things,” he said. “That’s when I really got to sit there and think about where I am, where I came from and everything like that.”

As the game drew closer, any nerves?

“No, no,” he said. “I didn’t have the pregame jitters. Some people may say that’s weird if you don’t have them, but I was just excited to tackle somebody [and] start the season off right.”

Quarterman, one of four true freshmen to start, 13 who played for Miami and 22 newcomers who put on a Miami uniform for the first time. It’s been a long time since Miami has put that many first-timers in a game. Coach Mark Richt didn’t think he’d ever played that many true freshmen.

“Probably not that many,” he said.

Quarterman, part of Miami’s all-freshman linebacker trio with Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud, had seven tackles (2.5 for losses) in his debut and “played great,” according to Richt. He and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz praised Pinckney (three tackles) and Santaluces High alum McCloud (one) as well. They were part of a defense that allowed 22 yards on the ground, zero touchdowns, and a long carry of 20 yards.

“You’re walking on the field before the game, you have no idea what to expect,” Diaz said. “You really have no idea. I was really proud of them. That is not very easy to do. Because there’s no one you can even look to – ‘How are we going to do this?’

“Early on you could tell the download speed was a little bit slower. But the first thing we’re going judge ourselves by is rushing defense, in the linebacker room. I thought the way we played the run as a testament to how those guys played, in a situation you don’t see very often.”

Richt said Pinckney and McCloud are “not quite as refined, in my opinion, as Shaq in terms of what to do and how to do it, but they play hard and physical and they hustle. Which is the trademark of what we’re trying to establish here.”

If can prove itself to be a winner in the first year of Richt’s tenure, it will do so with some very young players. In particular, rapid development of the starting linebackers — all 18 years old — is even more vital now that redshirt freshman Jamie Gordinier is out for the year with a knee injury.

Miami will also need wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, who started alongside Stacy Coley and tight ends Chris Herndon and David Njoku, to stay healthy and productive.

UM needs everyone, frankly. On Saturday, Miami had an estimated 75 players on scholarship. Of those, eight were unavailable because of injury or suspension. And that doesn’t include Gordinier or defensive end Trent Harris, who played with a broken hand and saw limited action.

FCS schools like Florida A&M are allowed 63 scholarship players, per NCAA rules. The FBS limit is 85.

Entering the season, the Hurricanes were the only one of 130 FBS teams to list more than two true freshmen as starters, according to depth charts on OurLads.com. Only four programs listed more than one.

Junior wide receiver Braxton Berrios said he was “very” impressed with the newcomers. “They stepped up tremendously. They really fit that role. Right Shaq?” he said to Quarterman, who was standing nearby waiting to be interviewed. Quarterman smiled.

“They were honestly tremendous,” Berrios said. “Ahmmon Richards, he had a great game. I think all the college football jitters are out now. I think he understands it’s just football. I think they all do. I see only improvement from all of them.”

Richt said Richards, from Wellington High, “did some nice things” in his two-catch, 31-yard debut that included a 16-yard touchdown. He probably would have drawn rave reviews from the coach had he held onto a 48-yard pass from quarterback Brad Kaaya down the middle of the field. It was ruled a catch, but overturned. Kaaya blamed himself afterward, saying he should have led Richards (who had to slow down to attempt the catch).

Kaaya, incidentally, was the last true freshman to start for Miami (2014 at Louisville). You’d have to go back to 2012 to find the last time Miami started more than one true freshman in an opener (running back Duke Johnson, right tackle Ereck Flowers at Boston College). It’s unclear when the last time Miami started a true freshman on defense; program records are incomplete. It’s believed Miami has never started three true freshmen at linebacker.

Among other standouts, Richt said Travis Homer, from Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, played “16 or 17” snaps on special teams and “probably would have had his first collegiate touchdown if he didn’t fumble” a carry with seven minutes left in the game. It was Miami’s only turnover. Homer, who “ran the ball well,” had five carries for 35 yards, including a 17-yarder. He was credited with one special teams tackle but was close to making several.

[Photos: Miami vs. Florida A&M]

Pat Bethel blocks a punt against Florida A&M. (Getty Images)

Pat Bethel blocks a punt against Florida A&M. (Getty Images)

Then there was Pat Bethel, the defensive end from Vero Beach, who made the most of a surprise opportunity. On fourth-and-9 on Florida A&M’s second drive of the game, Miami sent out its punt block team. Gordinier, with his knee injury, was unable to take the field.

In came Bethel, the backup. He blocked a punt.

Miami, set up at FAMU’s 20, was in the end zone six plays later. Bethel was later credited with a quarterback hit.

Others who saw action: wide receiver Dionte Mullins, tight end Michael Irvin II, safeties Romeo Finley (three tackles), Jeff James Jr. and Cedrick Wright; cornerback Malek Young (tackle) and defensive end Joe Jackson (tackle). Of those, only Jackson saw regular action early in the game.

The only true freshmen who didn’t play were wide receiver Sam Bruce, (suspended for the first three games), defensive lineman Tyreic Martin (injured), quarterback Jack Allison, tight end Jovani Haskins and offensive tackle Tre Johnson (all redshirt candidates).

With so many players feeling good about seeing time in a 67-point win, Richt said he is fighting “human nature” with Florida Atlantic next up (6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3.com).

“When people hear good things about themselves, sometimes they tend to relax or somehow they think that all the games are going to be this much fun or this easy,” he said. “I hope they don’t think that. We’ll have to do a good job of getting them grounded, by watching our opponent, seeing how they execute. Focus on your job, focus on your technique, focus on your effort.”

 

Reader Comments 0

0 comments