Takeaways from the 2019 Season
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — It wasn’t, by any stretch, the kind of season the Hurricanes hoped to have – and first-year head coach Manny Diaz has acknowledged as much, more than once since the season ended.
After winning three straight conference games to earn bowl eligibility, Miami ended the year with three straight losses and the Hurricanes’ performance against Louisiana Tech in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl meant a 6-7 finish, something Diaz said can’t happen again.
The goal now? Learning from the season that was and moving Miami forward.
“What [we] looked like tonight can’t show up in 2020 and it will get fixed,” Diaz said after the season’s final game. “The whole season has a what-could-have-been aspect to it, whether it’s the close losses early in the year or the way things kind of fell apart, especially offensively, in the last three games. But everything that happened happened exactly for a reason and it’s brought us to this point and when you come to a point like this, there’s a lesson that has to be learned. And again, it’s a responsibility to correct the mistakes and fix what needs to be fixed. That will be our bridge to 2020.”
As tough as the season was, though, there were still some positives Miami can build on as it looks to bounce back next year.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau emerged as one of the top defensive players in the nation. Running back Cam’Ron Harris looks ready to become a leader for the offense and punter Lou Hedley, who set social media ablaze when he signed with the Hurricanes in February, helped solve one of the biggest issues Miami faced in 2018.
Here, a look at some of the moments and storylines that defined the season that was.
1. The quarterback position remains unsettled
When he was announced as the Hurricanes’ new coach last January, Diaz made it clear one of his biggest priorities was finding a way to fix Miami’s quarterback woes of 2018.
A year later, Diaz and the Hurricanes still find themselves trying to find a solution under center.
Redshirt freshman Jarren Williams started the opener against Florida and was the Hurricanes’ primary quarterback throughout the year, even setting a Miami single-game record with six touchdown passes during the Canes’ win over Louisville.
But Williams was inconsistent, and that took a toll on him and the offense as a whole.
More than once, he was replaced in games by fellow quarterback N’Kosi Perry, but he too, endured his share of struggles and was unable to take full control of the job.
The Hurricanes’ season finale against Louisiana Tech seemed a microcosm of Miami’s season-long quarterback issues, with three different players taking snaps at the position.
Williams started the game, but was replaced briefly in the first half by redshirt sophomore Tate Martell, who played a series and completed one pass. Williams re-entered the game but continued to struggle and was ultimately replaced by Perry
None of the quarterbacks found success against the Bulldogs, the trio combining to go 15 of 34 for 153 yards with two interceptions. Now, Miami will head into the offseason again looking to improve at the most critical position on the field.
“We had a hard time with all the guys sustaining a drive,” Diaz said after the Louisiana Tech loss. “We’d had a plan to get Tate in in the first half and give him a drive … When he was in there, we were having a hard time getting the ball down the field. Everything kind of turned into a scramble. When Jarren was in there, just very mixed in terms of his decision making and idea of where to go with the football. I thought N’Kosi competed there toward the end and had some chances, then we had the crucial turnover.”
2. The offense as a whole was hot and cold
There were moments this season that Miami was a force on offense, the Hurricanes scoring 52 points in a win over Louisville and moving the ball effectively in a 17-point win over rival Florida State.
Then there were moments, particularly late in the year, when the offense simply couldn’t get going.
The Hurricanes managed just 227 yards in their 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech. They were held scoreless in the first half of a November loss to FIU. And they had just 259 yards in the regular-season finale against Duke.
Converting on third down was a problem all season and Miami’s young offensive line experienced its share of highs and lows, turning in impressive performances against Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville, but struggling against Florida, Virginia Tech and Duke, where the unit was beset by injuries.
There were highlights over the course of the season, of course.
DeeJay Dallas topped the 100-yard rushing mark in back-to-back games against North Carolina and Bethune-Cookman. Tight end Brevin Jordan earned recognition as both a first-team All-ACC selection and a Mackey Award finalist. There was Williams’ record-setting day against Louisville, too.
But ultimately, the offense wasn’t consistent enough and that has meant changes, with Diaz now searching for a new offensive coordinator and considering a new offensive system.
“Right now, the whole focus is getting the right offensive coordinator. I’ve already spoken to probably seven or eight guys both at the college and pro level trying to find the guy that’s got the style of offense. We’re going to see a dramatic change in how we look on offense and the style we play with,” Diaz said earlier this week during a radio appearance with WQAM-560’s Joe Rose. “We’re going to get the tempo jacked up here. We’re going to start to spread the ball out and get the ball to our athletes in space and do something here that hasn’t been done and people have not seen.”
3. The defense again put up solid numbers
During Diaz’s time as Miami’s defensive coordinator, the Hurricanes became one of the top units in the nation and finished among FBS leaders in several categories across the board.
Even through some occasional hiccups, that trend continued this season.
The Hurricanes gave up 309.8 yards per game and 4.74 yards per play, both of which ranked 12th nationally among FBS programs.
Miami’s 3.54 sacks per game ranked fifth nationally and second in the ACC, while the Hurricanes’ 8.31 tackles-for-loss per game ranked sixth nationally and second in the conference.
Additionally, the Hurricanes ranked among the nation’s top 25 programs in passing defense (20th at 195.2 yards per game), rushing defense (19th at 114.62 yards per game) and 24th in scoring defense (20.2 points per game).
The defense wasn’t perfect – missed tackles were an issue at times and both FIU and Virginia Tech managed to reach the 30-point threshold – but, the defense consistently did enough to help the Hurricanes win, including holding six opponents to 14 points or less.
4. Greg Rousseau emerged as one of the nation’s top young players
With his unique frame and knack for getting to quarterbacks, Greg Rousseau wasted little time impressing teammates and coaches when he arrived at Miami as an early enrollee two years ago.
But, two games into the 2018 season, the defensive end suffered a season-ending ankle injury that quickly turned him from potential contributor to spectator.
When he returned to action this season, the redshirt freshman made a quick impact.
Rousseau finished the year with 15.5 sacks, a number that not only led the ACC, but tied him with Greg Mark for second most sacks in a single season at Miami.
The former Champagnat Catholic standout also had an ACC-high 19.5 tackles for loss. He and teammate Jon Garvin tied for a team-high two forced fumbles while he and teammate Shaquille Quarterman tied for a team-high seven QB hurries.
Rousseau also finished with 54 tackles and in December was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. He nearly ran away with the honor, totaling 51 votes while Clemson’s Tyler Davis finished second with eight votes.
He became just the second Hurricane to earn the defensive honor, following former linebacker Sean Spence, who took home the award in 2008.
Now, Rousseau’s goal is to build on his success as he looks toward 2020 and what will hopefully be his second season as a full-time starter.
“It’s meant everything to play here when you think about the dudes that have come through this program, like Warren Sapp, Calais Campbell and Vince Wilfork,” said Rousseau, who was also named an FWAA second-team All-American. “It’s really a blessing to even be here at all. And to just add to that legacy, I’m really grateful for that.”
5. Shaquille Quarterman makes history
Rousseau wasn’t the only Hurricane to add his name to the Miami record book this season.
Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman started all 52 games of his Hurricanes career, a feat unmatched by any player in program history.
Against Duke in the regular-season finale, Quarterman – who finished the year with a team-high 107 tackles – made his 51st straight start, breaking the previous Miami record for consecutive starts held by former Hurricanes defensive tackle William Joseph, who set the mark between 1999 and 2002.
Later in December, the draft-eligible Quarterman played in the Independence Bowl, where television cameras caught him giving his teammates an impassioned speech on the sideline as Miami tried to rally late in the game.
After the game ended, Quarterman became visibly emotional when asked about his Miami career, Diaz and why he chose to play in the bowl.
“What made me want to play in this game? Every guy in the locker room,” said Quarterman, a first-team All-ACC selection. “A lot of people make business decisions, but I just … it’s something in me. I can’t. I like to finish with my guys. The game is so deep to me, it was really about finishing with my guys.”
6. DeeJay Dallas, K.J. Osborn lead the offense
Though the offense endured its share of struggles this year, there were several players who stepped up as leaders not only on the field, but off it.
Dallas – who endeared himself to the Hurricanes’ fanbase by serving as an unofficial Miami ambassador even before officially signing with the program in 2017 – was one of the Hurricanes’ heart and soul players.
Though he was sidelined late in the year by an elbow injury, Dallas finished the season with a team-high 693 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.
After his injury, his absence was felt both on the field and in the locker room.
“DeeJay’s somebody you really want on your team. He puts the team first, always. He puts up amazing stats, but he comes in the locker room and he’s always smiling and playing around with guys. He never comes in and has down days,” Jordan said of Dallas in October. “He really just gels the whole offense together, even in the huddle. He’s always motivating us.”
Meanwhile, receiver K.J. Osborn – a graduate transfer from Buffalo – emerged as the leader of Miami’s receivers corps and served as mentor for his younger teammates all season.
Osborn posted a team-high 50 catches for 547 yards. He was also a contributor on special teams and finished the year with a team-high 1,018 all-purpose yards, 255 of those coming on punt returns and 201 coming on kickoff returns.
That, though, wasn’t necessarily his biggest impact this year.
“We were depending on him and he stepped up and made the play,” receiver Mike Harley said of Osborn’s game-winning catch at Pittsburgh. “It was like watching our older brother handle something. I just looked at him and was like, ‘I really look up to that guy.’ I look up to a lot of guys, but I don’t always tell them that. K.J.’s like a bright star. He shines and I told him, ‘Man, I wish I could do what you do.’ He’s just different.”
7. Brevin Jordan recognized among nation’s top tight ends
Entering the season, expectations were high for Jordan.
The sophomore delivered and was consistently one of the top targets for Miami’s quarterbacks.
A second-team All-ACC selection in 2018, Jordan built on his success, finishing 2019 with 35 catches for 495 yards, despite being hampered by a late-season foot injury.
He was a first-team All-ACC selection this year and finished the season as one of three national finalists for the Mackey Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top tight end.
8. Jimmy Murphy gives Hurricanes reason to cheer
Jimmy Murphy started his career at Miami as a walk-on.
He finished it as one of the Hurricanes’ emotional leaders – and the only player to wear both Miami’s Touchdown Rings and Turnover Chain this season.
Murphy introduced himself to college football fans across the nation in September when he and his teammates celebrated wildly after the former walk-on scored on a 4-yard run during Miami’s win over Bethune-Cookman.
Two months later, in his final game at Hard Rock Stadium, the senior special teams ace recovered a fumble in Miami’s win over Louisville, a play that gave him the first Turnover Chain moment of his career.
That, too, set off a massive celebration both on the Hurricanes’ sideline and in the stands – a celebration so wild the chain’s clasp came undone. Television cameras caught the unexpected moment, complete with Murphy’s memorable reaction.
“The chain is amazing. I didn’t even know I had it. I was just filled with energy. When they brought it out, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s mine’ so I just took it,” Murphy said that day. “And I forgot I was wearing a helmet. I didn’t break it. I hope I didn’t. And I’m sure there were words I shouldn’t have said online and on the screen, so I just want to apologize for that.”
9. Lou Hedley’s strong leg makes an impact
The Hurricanes came into the season knowing they had to improve their punting situation.
Enter Australian punter Lou Hedley.
A transfer from the College of San Francisco, Hedley averaged 43.9 yards per punt with 16 of his punts going more than 50 yards and 21 landing inside the 20-yard line. Miami finished fourth in the ACC in net punting.
10. It’s time to look forward
As disappointing as the Hurricanes’ 6-7 season was, there was one December highlight Miami can build on in the coming months: the arrival of a top-20 recruiting class.
Miami signed 18 players during the Early Signing Period, its class highlighted by the likes of consensus four-star running back and U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection Donald Chaney, Jr., four-star quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and four-star offensive tackle prospect Jalen Rivers, an Under Armour All-American.
Of Miami’s 18 December signees, 13 are expected to be on campus in the coming weeks when the new semester begins.
That, Diaz said, will be huge for them – and the Hurricanes as a whole.
“It will be huge. It will be four months of development in the weight room, understanding how we do things and how we work, so you can teach the habits of how to lift a weight, how to do anything there,” Diaz said last month. “To get them on the practice field to immediately compete for playing time, we know we have some spots where we are thin on our current roster. Getting these guys in the mix, getting them on the grass and seeing what they can do is big. … They experience they’ll be able to get by coming in early is invaluable.”