ATLANTA — Life moves quickly, especially when you’re a college freshman and everything’s new.
Playing Georgia Tech makes it go at a breakneck pace.
“I was told by a lot of older guys that this game is going to go by fast,” said first-year linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who wondered what they meant by that. The answer: the Yellow Jackets run the ball so much, they told him, “that the clock never stops.”
When it finally did so Saturday, Miami had a 35-21 win and the three freshmen who spoke afterwards were just as confident as they were entering the game.
With good reason. Quarterman and defensive end Joe Jackson returned fumbles for touchdowns, helping put Miami up 28-7. Linebacker Michael Pinckney, who had a sack on third down in the second quarter, sealed the win with a fourth-down interception with 2:21 left.
The linebackers, along with roommate Zach McCloud, and Jackson are far from flawless, but for freshmen, they’re doing well.
“It’s fun for them,” coach Mark Richt said. “They’re probably having more success than they should right now, and they’re probably not really good at handling it.”
What did Richt mean by that?
“I heard an interview the other day, talking about how great they were,” he said. “He’s trying to convince me he’s bragging about the team and not him. I wasn’t quite convinced of it.”
He was referring to the colorful Pinckney, who was asked to grade the performances of the linebacker trio and said, “A-plus.” Quarterman and McCloud, standing next to him, were asked the same question and didn’t bring it quite as strongly. Pinckney said Richt told him to watch himself in interviews, to not “disrespect college football.”
“I’m going to correct myself on that,” he said, pleading his case that he was indeed talking about the team, not himself. “I’m just a humble guy trying to make an impact on a great defense.”
That may be premature.
“Like I’ve said before, they don’t know that they don’t know what’s about to happen to them,” Richt said. “They’re going to get punched really good one time, and we’ll see how they react.”
For now, we have this: the freshmen — and sophomores, of which Miami has 10 playing key roles in its two-deep — helped hold Georgia Tech to 267 rushing yards. That’s more than UM allowed on the ground in its first three games combined (195), but it’s also fewer than UM has allowed recently against the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option run game. Miami allowed 300 or more rushing yards in each of the last three years, and 287 in 2012.
Besides, those confident freshmen can’t talk about greatness unless they beat Florida State, which comes to town Saturday. That’s why none of them were prepared to call Georgia Tech a statement game.
“Just another win, man,” Pinckney said. “The media’s going to talk about Miami until we win another national championship. That’s the standard we’re holding ourselves to. We’re not nothing until we get a number on the wall. We can go 12-0, but if we don’t do our jobs at the end and get a championship, we’re really not nothing.”
“This is why we came here,” Quarterman said. “If we don’t beat them and get a natty” — a national title — “in the time we’re here, we haven’t done Miami justice.”