Invincibility stars, force fields: Miami Hurricanes’ run game seeks power-up

Wonder if Mark Richt has ever played Nintendo. (Getty Images)

[Rosier close to Canes TD record]

[Miami holds at No. 2 in the polls]

[5 takeaways from Miami-Virginia | Video]

[What players and coaches said afterward]

[Press box commentary | Pregame pix, vids, notes]

Hurricanes fans who played the classic Super Mario Bros. video game series may have wondered if Miami ran into an invincible star. Mostly everything Miami did against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame worked. In the run game, where the Hurricanes had struggled in the weeks after losing Mark Walton to an injury, defenders were falling down left and right.

For three quarters against Virginia last week, Miami’s ballcarriers looked mostly like a group of regular old Marios. Until the fourth, when they found a power-up.

In their 44-28 comeback win over the Cavaliers, the Hurricanes (10-0, 7-0 ACC)  rushed for four yards on six carries in the first quarter, an average of 0.7 yards per rush. They improved in the second (3.9) and third (4.1) quarters, before breaking out for 76 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries in the fourth quarter (8.4).

It’s unclear if starting tailback Travis Homer has played old-school Nintendo, but he is apparently a fan of the anime show Dragonball Z. After he scored a 19-yard touchdown for the game’s final points with 1:16 left, he celebrated by throwing an energy ball (known as a Kamehameha to fans of the show).

If Miami can find some kind of power-up — the kind prime-time home games against marquee opponents provided them, perhaps — in Friday’s noon tilt at Pittsburgh (ABC), coach Mark Richt would gladly collect it.

Richt was happy with Homer’s effort Saturday (96 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries), as he kept pushing even though he didn’t often have much room to run.

“Sometimes you’ve got to get those tough yards,” Richt said Sunday. “Then throughout the course of a game, a crease will hit, you’ll get a little momentum, break a tackle and make a big play.”

 

Virginia “twisted a lot” with its defensive line, Richt said. “They had a lot of stunts. They were hard to collect,” meaning Miami offensive linemen had a hard time squaring them up to block.

He said UM worked more outside zone/stretch plays, rather than inside zone, to get a wider angle on the onrushing Hoos. “Inside zone,” he said, “didn’t really do much.” He felt UM pass-protected “mostly good” against a unit that was “bringing a lot of stuff at us.” Malik Rosier was sacked three times.

“Gotta clean up some things,” Richt said, adding that UM “didn’t block well” in short-yardage situations.

That has been a season-long issue for the Hurricanes. Miami ranks 19th nationally in yards per carry (5.32), but has put up troubling short-yardage numbers. On third down with 3 yards or less to go, Miami is 130th of 130 FBS teams when it tries to run (0.75 yards per carry). It is 116th on all third-down rushes (1.88).

Pittsburgh (4-7), which hosts Miami at noon Friday (ABC), has been stout against the run of late. In its last four games, against Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, the Panthers are allowing 3.34 yards per carry and have surrendered one rushing touchdown.

 

On hold: Miami, which ranks third nationally in sacks per fame (3.8) and fourth in tackles for loss (9.0), has one of the country’s best defensive lines. That leads to a lot of clutching and grabbing from opposing blockers, some of it illegal.

Asked if he thought Virginia was holding more often than other teams — as Hurricanes fans on social media seemed to think — Richt said “every game there are” uncalled holds. “We’ll turn stuff every week (to the ACC).” Miami reports “probably five to maybe as many as 15 calls a game we would like them to take a look at and tell us what they think. I think that’s pretty typical. It’s been that way all the years I was in the SEC as well.”

Does the league get back to him? “Oh yeah,” he said. On everything they report? “Always. They either agree or disagree.” Asked for a percentage, Richt said they agree with “probably 25 to 35 percent” of UM’s grievances.

Noteworthy: Redshirt sophomore Lawrence Cager, who had a 28-yard fourth-down grab against Notre Dame and a touchdown catch against Virginia, has played well of late. But Richt said “he can improve on his blocking, for sure.” … On Pittsburgh’s chilly weather: “It’ll be addressed before the week’s out.” Temperatures will be in the mid-40s for a noon kickoff at Heinz Field. “Actually pretty good football weather,” Richt said. … About Pitt, the team: “They just beat the team we played 31-14, I believe. That’s about all you need to know.” The Panthers (4-7) beat Virginia three weeks ago but followed that with a loss to North Carolina (2-8). Pitt, which lost 20-14 at Virginia Tech  last week, are a 14-point home underdog to Miami. … Freshman defensive end DJ Johnson, who was not present at the game Saturday, “needed to go home for some personal reasons,” Richt said. “He’s coming back [Sunday].”

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