Freshman players performing beyond their years

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After two victories over subpar opponents, the Canes will hit the road for their first away game under Head Coach Mark Richt when they travel to Boone, North Carolina, to face off against the Appalachian State Mountaineers.

While questions regarding Miami’s lack of depth and experience on defense surrounded the team heading into the season, specifically pertaining to the trio of starting freshman linebackers, the Canes have answered the call.

“Me, Mike and Zach would always talk about it between each other,” freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman said after practice. “Let’s not just be regular freshmen, let’s go in and make a splash, make a big bang.”

What a splash they have made.

Behind freshman linebackers Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud, Miami’s defense ranks No. 1 in the nation against the run, allowing an astonishingly low 34.5 yards on the ground in addition to leading the country in tackles for loss with 28.

“We don’t get involved with the bright lights and the atmosphere as much as going out there and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Quarterman said.

With the Canes facing a tough team in the Mountaineers, who fell just short of an upset against SEC East Division favorite Tennessee in their season opener, the Miami coaches and players are just trying to stay zeroed in on the task at hand.

“Just staying focused,” Pinckney said. “It’s on the road, we’ve got to take the trip seriously. It being a televised game doesn’t make a difference to us; we’re just going to do our job and come out victorious.”

Appalachian State, who has a history of upsetting big-name opponents, is expecting a record crowd at Kidd Brewer Stadium for what is already being called the biggest game in Boone, North Carolina, history.

While the freshman defenders are currently excelling under the spotlight, the first road battle against a tough Mountaineers’ team will present a tough test and possible adversity for the first-year players.

“Right now they think everything is good,” Richt said. “They are going to get hit in the mouth and they’ll also, as most freshmen do, hit a wall somewhere along the way in the season. Class, practice, games, travel, emotion – all these things going on. Hopefully we can keep that from happening, but it’s pretty typical.”

This week’s assignment for the Miami defense: stopping Appalachian State’s junior quarterback Taylor Lamb, who was 15 of 23 passing for 108 yards against Tennessee, and shutting down outstanding senior running back Marcus Cox, who ranks No. 4 in school history with 4,336 career rushing yards.

The Mountaineers will present a challenging test for the Hurricanes, so Coach Richt expressed the importance of being prepared.

“It’s like any week,” Richt said. “Regardless of where you’re going, you have to get ready.”

For the Canes offense, junior quarterback Brad Kaaya has found a new favorite target: freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards. Richards, who caught a touchdown pass in the home opener, is ready for the challenge of his first road game.

“They’re not going to like you,” Richards said. “They’re not going to be cheering for you, that will be the biggest difference … different environment, they’re going to be loud. Just playing in a different environment in the mountains is a different experience than being out here.”

Regardless of the environment or butterflies that may arise, 6-foot-1, 220-pound Pinckney promises that the team will make no excuses.

“We’ve handled it like we’re supposed to,” Pinckney said. “We’ve dominated.”

With continued freshman contributions from Pinckney, Quarterman, McCloud and Richards, the Hurricanes will look to extend their winning streak to three on Saturday at 12 p.m. when they take on Appalachian State.

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