No. 21 Miami Takes Down FIU, 31-17
By David Villavicencio
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The third installment of the UM-FIU football crosstown rivalry was a rout, as N’Kosi Perry and a dominant Miami defense led the Hurricanes to a 31-17 victory over the Panthers.
A crowd of 59,814 football fans watched the 21st-ranked Hurricanes (3-1) score four touchdowns and tally 488 yards of total offense, while a disruptive Canes’ defense amassed 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception against the Panthers (2-2).
“Like I told the team, we had a victory and that was great,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “All victories are sweet. We are thankful for that. We thought FIU did a great job. They have a really good team. We beat a good team, which was good. Now we know that in five short days, we’re getting ready to play North Carolina – first conference game, right here at home. We’re going to need everybody’s support. We’re looking forward to that. We love being here, we love seeing all the tailgaters when we roll into town. They said the Hurricane Walk was awesome. Our guys really do appreciate that.”
After starter Malik Rosier was under center for the first two drives of the game, Perry led the offense onto the field for Miami’s third series of the game and the redshirt freshman led an 87-yard scoring drive that ended with a 35-yard touchdown run by Travis Homer that gave the Canes a 7-0 lead with 2:51 left in the opening quarter. Homer led Miami with 114 rushing yards on 13 carries. The 100-yard game was his first of 2018 and fourth of his career.
“It was scheduled that he was going to go third series,” Richt said. “Things went well, so we kept him in there. Overall, he did a very good job. He went ahead and launched a ball downfield that ended up being a pick. Not to be too funny, but that might have been the best punt of the day. Third-and-long, we launched it out there, they catch it and we tackled him right away – that was the best change of field position we had all day when it comes to that. We’re still working our way through a few things. Good news it didn’t cost us the game and the other thing is there’s some valuable experience for N’Kosi tonight.”
Perry threw a dart to Lawrence Cager for a 26-yard touchdown on Miami’s next drive, double the Canes’ lead to 14 just six seconds into the second quarter. The five-play, 68-yard scoring drive was Miami’s longest scoring drive of the season by yards.
“He told both of us that I might get in in the third series,” Perry said. “This week in practice, I’ve been doing the same. I’ve been getting first team reps and I feel like nothing changed.”
Miami’s defense forced its first turnover of the game with 9:41 remaining in the opening half, as Sheldrick Redwine dove to pick off FIU quarterback James Morgan and give the Canes the ball on their own 12. With the interception, the senior safety earned his second turnover chain of the season and dedicated the interception to his mother when he reached the sidelines, writing “S/O 2 mama” on a dry erase board and showing it to the fans behind the Miami bench. Fourteen plays later, Bubba Baxa hit a 30-yard field goal to put Miami ahead, 17-0.
“I mean, I love my momma so I had to give her a shout out, and I appreciate everything she does for me,” Redwine said. “It was crazy because I was thinking about her in the hotel and I said if I ever had the chance I would do it and the chance came, it was surreal, it was automatic that I was going to put it (on the board). The interception was just a great pass rush by the d-line and I just caught the quarterback staring his receiver down, so I just tried to make a break on the ball, make a play on the ball.”
Perry had another chunk play to open Miami’s final drive of the first half, connecting with sophomore receiver Mike Harley for a 42-yard gain to the FIU 25. Two plays later, Perry hit freshman tight end Brevin Jordan for a 12-yard touchdown that gave Miami a 24-0 lead heading into halftime. Jordantotaled a career-best 67 receiving yards and one touchdown – his third of the season.
With Jeff Thomas out for the majority of the game due to dehydration, Harley stepped up and had a outstanding performance, posting a career-high seven catches for a career-high 76 yards in the victory.
“I call it competitive excellence,” Harley said. “I came from a high school where everyone was a star and if someone went down then the next man was up, so you know, it was my time to shine. Opportunity came and I seized it.”
Miami’s defense put on a smothering performance in the first half against FIU, holding the Panthers to 15 total yards – including just one rushing yard. The Hurricanes totaled six tackles for loss and one sack in the first half, adding three PBUs. FIU finished 0-for-6 on third downs in the first half and amassed just 14 passing yards.
“I don’t know if you would expect a yard-per-play, but our guys were dominant,” Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Again, great attitude, great in the hotel this morning, came and dominated. And we are seeing the benefit of a third down defense. We are not on the field for many plays. Offense is possessing the ball, time of possession, starting to go more in our favor. And I could have no complaints. The first three quarters were – we can only play who we can play and we were as good as we could be.”
Cager and Perry connected again for a second touchdown with 7:50 left in the third quarter. The 17-yard pass and catch gave the Hurricanes a 31-0 lead and tied a career-high for Perry with three touchdown passes in a game, while Cager’s touchdown was his team-leading fourth of the year.
Perry finished the game completing a career-high 17-of-25 passes for a career-best 224 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He added 32 rushing yards on the ground.
“Preparing all week in practice,” Perry said. “That’s where confidence comes from. When you know what you’re doing in practice, then on the field you’re going to execute.”
UM’s defense put on a smothering performance, holding the Panthers to 187 total yards – 125 of which came in the fourth quarter. The Panthers scored 17 unanswered points late in the game while facing Miami’s second team defense, but it would be too little, too late for FIU. Morgan found wide receiver CJ Worton for a 35-yard touchdown that got FIU on the scoreboard halfway through the fourth quarter.
“We have a game in five days, which we are aware of,” Diaz said. “So when the script was written, we wanted to get the game out of hand, we wanted to play some of our guys who are backups because we know we are in this stadium again in five days, against a really good opponent. Secondly, this is what we felt like we missed a year ago. We felt like in the beginning of the year, a year ago, the Toledo game was close, we missed the Arkansas State game. We didn’t get to play in some blowouts. We didn’t get to play our depth early in the year. And we felt like as the year went on when we wore down. That affected us, Pittsburgh, Clemson…you know, down the road. We could have left the ones in for our ego and shut them out. I mean, we still should have shut them out. They left their ones [first team] in, going against our threes [third team], and that’s fine. Because they have some players that we really have lot of respect for. But the guys that got experience tonight, that is invaluable. Now they won’t all come in, en masse. We aren’t going to put 11 threes [third team players] on the field at once like we did tonight but the ability to have a guy here and a guy there that will fill and play major roles as October turns into November – tonight will be a big night for them.”
Two minutes later, FIU got the ball again deep in Miami territory when reserve quarterback Cade Weldon and running back Robert Burns were unable to connect on a handoff and the Panthers’ Jason Mercier recovered the fumble on the UM 11. Three plays later, FIY kicker Jose Borregales converted a 28-yard field goal attempt to cut Miami’s lead to 21, 31-10.
The Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick, regaining possession of the ball on their 46 with 3:19 remaining in the game. Morgan completed a 44-yard pass to Worton to move FIU to the Miami 10 and three plays later the pair connected for a five-yard touchdown that brought the Panthers within 14.
Miami’s Zach McCloud recovered the next FIU onside kick attempt and the Hurricanes brought Perry back in to run out the final 1:34 remaining on the clock and secure their third straight victory of the season and improve to 3-0 all-time against FIU.
Gerald Willis III, Shaquille Quarterman and Jonathan Garvin each had a team-high five tackles to lead a Miami defense that was outstanding on third downs. The Canes entered the game as the nation’s top team in third down conversion percentage defense, holding opponents to a 16% conversion rate. FIU went 3-for-14 on third downs and did not convert a third down until its ninth drive of the game in the middle of the third quarter.
Miami, who entered the game as the national leader with 35 tackles for loss, added 11 more to bring its season total to 46. The Hurricanes held FIU to just 17 rushing yards on 24 attempts on Saturday afternoon. Willis had a team-high three tackles for loss and recorded his third game with at least 3.0 TFLs this season, while Garvin added 2.5 TFLs and had half a sack. Joe Jackson led the Canes with 1.5 sacks on the afternoon.
“We knew coming into the game today, FIU was getting up and running the ball a lot,” Willis said. “We were able to learn and stop them and get [tackles for loss]. They ran and we just got TFLs.”
The Hurricanes have won 11 straight regular season games at Hard Rock Stadium, with their last loss coming against their next opponent, North Carolina, on Oct. 15, 2016.
“We’re focused on North Carolina tonight,” Willis said. “I’m going to watch some film tonight. No days off. It’s our first conference game and we’re getting ready for some elite talent coming in. I’m excited and ready for another game.”