Cover, Football, Sports

No. 18 Hurricanes defeat Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 41-13 in season opener

Lawrence Cager

Redshirt sophomore receiver Lawrence Cager rises up for the catch during Saturday's 41-13 victory over Bethune-Cookman at Hard Rock Stadium. Cager finished with three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

The Miami weather started off stormy, but then cleared up to be a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon.

The No. 18-ranked Miami Hurricanes followed a similar pattern in their season opener.

After a slow start in the first quarter that had the score tied at three apiece, junior running back Mark Walton and starting quarterback Malik Rosier jumpstarted the Canes’ offense. Miami racked up 550 total yards to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 41-13 at Hard Rock Stadium.

Walton was a man on a mission from the start. He showed consistent bursts of speed and elusiveness, especially during the second quarter when he had a 47-yard rush, a 20-yard rush and a five-yard touchdown rush. During the scoring run, he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, ran past multiple defenders near the sideline and leaped into the end zone.

Mark Walton.jpg

Junior running back Mark Walton leaps into the end zone for the touchdown to make the score 10-3 in the first quarter. Walton would go on to score twice Saturday afternoon. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

“I think early on you could see he was pretty hyped up – I think he was looking for contact more than looking to make somebody miss,” Head coach Mark Richt said. “He was really wanting to finish runs and run through people. Then, as the game went on, I think he used a little bit more of his running instincts and made some better decisions. He delivered it. He’s a tough kid.”

Rosier started off shaky with his accuracy, but got it together in the second quarter, throwing two of his three touchdowns. Miami would score 21 points in the period to takeover the game.

“The coaches were happy with me – they said I made the right decisions,” said Rosier, who is a redshirt junior. “The couple balls I missed—there was one to Darrell Langham, a throw over to Jeff Thomas—those are small things I have to fix and just get better at. In big games, those could make or break the drive.”

Walton finished with 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. It is his seventh career 100-plus yard rushing day, tying him with former Cane Tyrone Moss for ninth in UM history. Rosier’s stats were solid, completing 17 of his 28 passes for 217 yards and three scores. He also ran for 41 yards on four rushes.

“It felt great to go out there and run for 100 yards,” Walton said. “Coach Richt did a great job trusting us and the running backs. Our offensive line did a great job, picking up key blocks and giving us running lanes, and we just took advantage of it and we just trusted our ability and ran hard.”

On the Canes’ first offensive play of the game, Rosier showed exactly the type of dual-threat he can be in Richt’s system. He flew out of the pocket and ran across the sideline for 23 yards. However, his passing touch took a little longer for him to get settled.

Rosier often missed receivers high-and-away on many of his throws in the first quarter – not deemed to be totally unexpected considering it was his first start since 2015 – but began to find rhythm in the second quarter.

At the 11:39 mark of the second period, Miami started a drive in which Rosier hit redshirt junior receiver Darrell Langham on a 46-yard deep pass, and then followed that up with a perfectly placed throw on a slant pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Lawrence Cager for the touchdown. It was an eight-play, 92-yard drive. It was also Rosier’s first touchdown of the game, and from there with the score at 17-3, there was no stopping the Hurricanes’ momentum.

“I feel like we came out there and I knew we were going to dominate, and that’s what we wound up doing – so there was no reason to have butterflies,” Rosier said in response to being asked if he was nervous to start out. “I just had to come out there and do my job, put our offense in the best situations to succeed every play.”

But from the get-go, the offense for UM rolled through Walton, a Preseason All-ACC selection who will be relied upon the entire season to do exactly what he did on Saturday afternoon – get the team going.

With the absence of 2016 All-ACC second team receiver Ahmmon Richards, who did not play because of a hamstring injury sustained in training camp, the Hurricanes got solid performances from two of their taller receivers who barely saw any action in 2016.

Langham, who served as a member of the practice squad and played sparingly in the season opener in 2016, exploded onto the scene against the Wildcats. Langham reeled in three receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown, where he used his 6-foot-4 frame to rise up and grab a five-yard fade pass in one-on-one coverage.

“To me, it felt like I was doing what I was always told to, which is to always just go up and snag it,” Langham said about his touchdown reception.

Cager, who stands at 6 foot 5, missed all of the 2016 season with a torn ACL. He made an impact against Bethune-Cookman, running clean routes on his way to three receptions for 47 yards and a score.

Cager Touchdown_Crenian.jpg

Redshirt sophomore receiver Lawrence Cager celebrates after catching the touchdown pass, bringing the score up to 17-3 against Bethune-Cookman in the second quarter. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

The Hurricanes defense, which ranked No. 20 in the country last season, had some struggles with blown coverages and penalties. Regardless, it did its job against the Wildcats, albeit against their backup quarterback Larry Brihm – starter Akevious Williams was out. Brihm found holes in the UM defense at times, leading a 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, but it was not nearly enough.

“We can take it both ways – the fact that they did put up points against us brings us back down to earth since during the offseason, the media and everybody else was saying how great this defense is,” sophomore linebacker Shaq Quarterman said about Bethune-Cookman’s scoring. “We have to realize that it’s up to us to make the shutout, so we have to go out there and do it. So, them putting up points was good in that regard, but we can’t have that against anybody.”

Quarterman, who led the team with 84 tackles in 2016, totaled a team-high eight tackles against the Wildcats. Sophomore cornerback Malek Young pulled in the team’s only interception and redshirt junior defensive end Demetrius Jackson had Miami’s only sack, which came early in the first quarter.

After the interception, Young was seen on the sideline wearing what the team calls the “Turnover Chain,” seemingly a way to reward the defense for those kinds of plays.

“We are kind of flashy, we do like jewelry,” Quarterman said with a smile talking about Miami culture. “It was just another incentive, and seeing Malek get it, it was amazing because we all wanted to know who would be the first guy to get it.”

Canes sophomore running back Travis Homer got plenty of playing time behind starter Walton and showed promise at a position where Miami does not have much depth. On multiple plays in the first and second half, he served as Rosier’s security blanket in the passing game. Homer rushed for 103 yards on just 11 carries, and also caught two passes for 25 yards.

Next, the Hurricanes will travel to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to play the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 at Centennial Bank Stadium.

Notes:

– Hard Rock Stadium’s attendance totaled 50,454 for the afternoon.

– Sophomore linebacker Michael Pinckney played in the second half after sitting out the entire first period due to a suspension from the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl. He is presumed to be one of the three starters at some point this season.

– Freshman safety Amari Carter laid arguably the biggest hit of the game in the fourth quarter on a Bethune-Cookman pass, knocking down the receiver and forcing a fumble. The Hurricanes recovered the football.

– Miami committed eight penalties that cost it 83 yards. Richt was not happy with the sloppiness at times.

“One of the things that I didn’t like was the number of penalties again,” Richt said. “We just can’t get out of our own way, especially in the red zone offensively.”

– Rosier was content with the group’s performance but knows his team must strive for more to be successful.

“Like Coach said, it was great, but not championship-level.”

September 2, 2017

Reporters

Isaiah Kim-Martinez

Isaiah Kim-Martinez can be reached on Twitter at @isaiah_km.


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