Offensive line takes a pounding from defense in Miami Hurricanes spring game

Coach Mark Richt at the Miami Hurricanes spring scrimmage in Boca Raton on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

[Video: reacting to the spring game | Stats report]
[Recap: O-line takes a pounding during spring game]
[Quotes: what Richt, players said afterward]
[10 things to watch at the Miami spring game]
[We toured Miami Hurricanes’ indoor practice facility]

MIAMI GARDENS — If the spring game is any indication, Miami’s defensive ends will be a problem for other teams’ offensive lines this fall.

For now, they’re hurting their own.

The Hurricanes’ edge rushers combined for seven of Miami’s nine sacks in Saturday’s spring game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mark Richt’s No. 1 worry this spring has been his offensive tackles, and it remains so.

“When we got here (in 2016), I thought of all the position groups on the field, that position had the least amount of guys that were ACC championship-caliber,” Richt said. “We’re still kind of fighting that battle.”

Left tackle Tyree St. Louis, a senior who shifted from the right side this spring, has done a decent job, Richt said. Right tackle Navaughn Donaldson, a sophomore, is trimming his 6-foot-6, 350-pound body as he converts from right guard. UM thinks both could be a decent pair this fall. But they’re not there yet, and no one else on the team is ready to push them.

Sophomore end Jonathan Garvin (Lake Worth High) had three sacks, and fellow first-string end Joe Jackson had another. They helped Miami’s defense to a 17-0 win over the first-string offense.

The setup of the scrimmage had the first-string defense and second-string offense on the same side, and the second-string defense and first-string offense on the other.

True freshman Greg Rousseau, who had four sacks in UM’s first scrimmage of the spring last Saturday, had three against the second unit. Reserve Scott Patchan added another, as did true freshman cornerback Gilbert Frierson, who raced in unblocked and was a little overeager when he pushed quarterback classmate Jarren Williams.

Most of the 15,875 (by UM’s count) who showed up wanted to see quarterbacks, and whether any of Miami’s youngsters looked capable of unseating incumbent starter Malik Rosier. Fans saw a few bright moments, but nothing much spectacular. The offensive line was a major reason for that.

Redshirt senior Rosier ran exclusively with the first-string offense and looked steady, completing 6-of-7 passes in the first half for 72 yards. He did not throw a touchdown. He took four sacks, all in the first half. He finished 9-of-14 for 105 yards.

“He didn’t get much of a chance to stand back there and sight some things up,” Richt said, complimenting the first-string front seven that included ends Garvin and Jackson, tackles Gerald Willis and Pat Bethel, and inside linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. Cornerback Michael Jackson stuffed his assignments.

“Couldn’t get much run going,” Richt said. “Couldn’t consistently form a good pocket. They tackled well. … If I were going to play a game against us, I’d be using tight ends and backs to chip and help on the way out.”

Richt, wanting his linemen to learn how to protect without help, avoided doing that until late in the scrimmage. “I got tired of not being able to step up and throw it,” he said.

Redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry worked mainly with the second unit and threw a nice touchdown pass to Brian Hightower (four catches, 100 yards, two touchdowns), who caught the night’s only scoring passes.

“Some of the simplest things to do in football are rush the passer and run a go ball,” Richt said. “We were letting their talent take over and not get too crazy with a lot of precision routes.”

Then again, he added, “we really couldn’t hold the ball long enough to let them do some of the route concepts I like to do. But it was fun to watch them make plays.”

Perry ended the first half with a deep shot into end-zone double coverage. Frierson intercepted it, and was given the turnover chain for the first time in his career. It was a scrimmage, but to Frierson, it certainly counted. He went to the bench and mugged for the fans.

“Those two corners,” Richt said, referring to Frierson and fellow newcomer D.J. Ivey, “we’re blessed to have them.”

Perry made several defenders miss and showed his quickness in the open field, leading all UM rushers with 45 yards on eight carries.

In the final minute of the game, he lofted a 41-yard pass to Darrell Langham, who made a grab over two defenders. He finished 11-of-26 for 166 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also took a sack.

True freshman Williams, a second-stringer, showed his ability to extend plays and his strong arm. His best play of the day was a pretty 14-yard touchdown to Hightower, who spun and caught a pass behind cornerback Jhavonte Dean. He went 9-of-14 for 107 yards and a touchdown.

“They’ve got the skillset to compete at this level,” Richt said of Perry and Williams. “My guess is if either one of those guys were with the first unit, they’d probably have a hard night, too.”

Running backs Travis Homer (seven carries, 29 yards) and DeeJay Dallas ran wiith the first unit. Backup Robert Burns (five carries, 14 yards) and Lorenzo Lingard, the five-star true freshman, worked with the twos.

Others who impressed included sophomore Derrick Smith, playing as a fifth defensive back in UM’s new “Striker” role, and sophomore safety Amari Carter. Both were aggressive tacklers and always near the ball.

Langham, with that late grab from Perry, tallied 66 yards on three catches. Lawrence Cager had two catches for 48 yards in the first half.

UM was missing several starters recovering from injuries, including star wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (knee) and linebacker Zach McCloud (wrist). Linebacker Charles Perry (Achilles’ tendon) and receiver Evidence Njoku (knee) did not participate. Same goes for quarterback Cade Weldon (eye infection).

Richt said no one injured in the game, which is always the most important news from a spring scrimmage. “We’ve had very little of that,” he said. “It’s been a blessing.”

The winning team was known as “Team Soffer,” after the family who donated $14 million to UM’s indoor practice facility. “Team Carol,” the losing side, got its name from Carol Soffer, whose name is on the new building.

* * *

Live updates (note: first, second and part of the third quarters … after that, we switched to “writing a game story” mode).

First quarter

The first-string offense played against the first-string defense. The second-stringers played against second-stringers. We’ll go drive-by-drive.

Lawrence Cager caught a 36-yard pass from Malik Rosier on the first play of the game, but Travis Homer ran three times for a net seven yards. Walk-on Turner Davidson missed a 45-yard field goal wide left.

N’Kosi Perry opened 0-for-2, overthrowing Darrell Langham up the right sideline by five yards.

Michael Irvin II made a diving 10-yard catch from Rosier, but two plays later Shaq Quarterman plowed over Irvin and “tackled” Rosier after a 1-yard gain. Quarterbacks are not allowed to be hit, only touch-tackled. Jonathan Garvin touch-sacked Rosier to force a punt.

Jarren Williams took the second drive with the second-stringers, opening with a dump-off over the middle to Brian Polendey for 10 yards. Williams gained five yards with a shifty move at the line. On third down, Rousseau chased Williams into an incompletion. Williams checked down to Lorenzo Lingard after a false-start penalty on backup left tackle George Brown Jr.

Perry had a turn with the first unit. His first pass was broken up by newly installed “Striker” Derrick Smith, who was covering Mike Harley. Michael Jackson forced a fumble on Travis Homer, who recovered. Perry overthrew Harley on third down. He opened 0-for-4. Punt.

Perry stayed in with the second team and made a spin move to get away from a Tyreic Martin near-sack. But he overthrew Robert Burns, who was wide-open. He then hit Dayall Harris in the flat for a 2-yard completion. Harris was pummeled by Amari Carter. On third-and-8, Mark Richt called timeout and Perry made the first big play of his Miami spring scrimmage debut. He found Brian Polendey up the right sideline for 30 yards. Polendey beat striker De’Andre Wilder. Perry gained a yard on first down, showing some shake-and-bake.

At the end of the first quarter, no one had scored. Rosier was 2-for-2 for 46 yards. Perry was 2-for-7 for 33 yards. Williams was 2-for-3 for 16 yards.

Second quarter

Perry stayed with the second unit to open the quarter. Lorenzo Lingard got early work, with a short catch and a carry of about 10 yards. Kai-Leon Herbert replaced George Brown Jr. at left tackle. On third-and-3, Lorenzo Lingard bullied his way up the middle for a first down. Perry threw a 9-yard touchdown to Brian Hightower, who beat Gilbert Frierson on a fade to the left side. Team Soffer 7-0.

On the first play of the second series, Jonathan Garvin raced through the line and sacked Malik Rosier. On the next play, Joe Jackson did the same thing. On third down, Rosier threw a pretty out from the right hash to the left sideline to Dayall Harris, who did not hang onto the ball despite being wide open. Jhavonte Dean hit him. Punt.

Perry stayed in the game on the next series. He picked up a 15-yard gain on a scramble off the left side. Miami put Bar Milo in the game at left guard and returned George Brown Jr. to left tackle. Jeff Thomas bobbled a pass that would have been a touchdown, though the pass from Perry was a bit too wide. On third-and-7 from the 10, Perry didn’t see any receiving options and gained four yards. And then we got this Very Spring Game situation: a walk-on kicker, left-footed, wearing No. 98, last name Burrows. Hit a 28-yard field goal. Not on the roster. No one knows his first name. Sorry, dude. He extended the Team Soffer lead to 10-0.

Next drive: Rosier worked a couple short passes to Mike Harley and Travis Homer to get Miami to midfield. Derrick Smith, looking like a prototypical “Striker,” dragged down DeeJay Dallas for a loss. Jonathan Garvin came around the right edge and got his third sack of the the day. He is a problem for Miami’s tackles.

With 47 seconds left in the first half, Miami’s second-string offense made a pretty play against the second-string defense. George Brown Jr. held off Scott Patchan at left tackle. Perry dropped back and floated a 52-yard ball to Brian Hightower, who dove beyond cornerback D.J. Ivey and caught the ball. But Gilbert Frierson picked off a poorly-thrown ball into end-zone double coverage. He gets the turnover chain. That’s how the first half ended.

Update: the lefty walk-on kicker who made a 28-yard field goal is Suleman Burrows. He has a website.

Halftime spring game stats:
Rosier 6-7, 72
Perry 5-14, 106, TD, INT; 6-30
Rush
Homer 4-13
Lingard 3-13
Rec
Hightower 2-61, TD
Polendey 2-40
Cager 2-48
Sacks
Garvin 3
Jackson 1
Rousseau 1
INT
Frierson 1

Third quarter

Jarren Williams got two series with the second unit. He flashed some skill, throwing a nice 25-yard ball to a wide-open Brian Hightower. Hightower got behind Jhavonte Dean, who was covering softly, and snatched a 14-yard touchdown. It was his second of the day. Williams was 4-for-5 against the second team.

Scott Patchan picked up a sack against the second unit.

An overeager Gilbert Frierson raced in for a sack, and touched Jarren Williams a little too aggressively. Lorenzo Lingard seemed irritated by it. That was Miami’s eighth sack of the day.

Pregame

* Travis Homer, Robert Burns and Lorenzo Lingard returned kicks pregame. Jeff Thomas, DeeJay Dallas and Mike Harley returned punts.

* Missing in action: Zach McCloud (wrist), Evidence Njoku (knee), Ahmmon Richards (knee), Charles Perry (Achilles’ tendon) and Demetrius Jackson (knee).

* Quarterback Cade Weldon (eye infection) did not dress.

* The center depth chart, per warmups: Tyler Gauthier, Corey Gaynor, Hayden Mahoney and Bar Milo.

* The first-string offensive line, left to right, was the same as the last couple practices: Hayden Mahoney at right guard and Navaughn Donaldson at right tackle, with Tyree St. Louis (left tackle), Jahair Jones (left guard) and Tyler Gauthier  (center). The backup O-line, left to right: George Brown Jr., Delone Scaife, Corey Gaynor, Zalon’tae Hillery and John Campbell.

* The starting defensive line: ends Jonathan Garvinand Joe Jackson, tackles Gerald Willis and Pat Bethel. The second-string: ends Scott Patchan and Terry McCray (a converted linebacker), tackles Jonathan Ford and Tyreic Martin, and third-string ends Greg Rousseau and walk-on Shawn Walker.