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Miami Hurricanes

Hurricanes star DT Gerald Willis will skip Pinstripe Bowl

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
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The Miami Hurricanes already suffered one blow earlier in the week with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz leaving to take the head coaching job at Temple. Now, on Friday afternoon comes word that arguably the team’s best defensive player will not play in the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl on December 27th with Wisconsin.

Fifth-year senior and captain defensive tackle Gerald Willis broke the news himself on social media Friday that due to a hand injury, he’s going to skip the match up at Yankee Stadium:

Willis started all 12 games this season for the Hurricanes and was named to the All-ACC second team. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference with a tremendous 18 tackles for loss and that number is also the most for any tackle in the FBS this season.

Even though his position doesn’t usually lend to having big defensive stats, Willis had career highs and tackles with 59, sacks with four and a fumble recovery, as well.

His top performance was arguably in the Canes opening game loss to LSU in Arlington, TX. That night, Willis finished with eight tackles, four for loss, and a sack and basically announced to the NFL that he would be a prospect to watch all season.

Cut out of the same mold as former canes star defensive tackles like Jerome Brown, Russell Maryland Warren Sapp, the 6-2 280 lb. Willis has got a lot of NFL scouts and personnel people drooling. Numerous draft publications and sites project Willis as a first-round pick and some believe that he could go even as high as the top 15 of April’s draft.

The former New Orleans High School product started his career at Florida, but transferred after coach Jim McElwain took over. He played two seasons in Miami, seeing limited action in 2016, where he made 19 tackles in nine games.

After taking 2017 off for personal reasons, Willis obviously came out strong and had the most tackles for loss in a single Miami season since Calais Campbell had 20.5 of them in 2006.

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Miami Hurricanes

Even in victory reality is harsh for Hurricanes

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It makes sense that an important victory for the Miami Hurricanes – a season-saving 17-9 win over the Virginia Cavaliers on Friday night – would simultaneously remind the Canes how far they still have to go, and how slim their margins are.

This was an improvement, and a significant one, but it wasn’t the conquest which dramatically changes opinions and gives birth to a fresh sense of hope.

The uneasy coexistence of happiness and uncertainty is going to remain part of Miami’s world in 2019, and if we’re being honest, probably the first half of the 2020 season. The U isn’t yet ready to escape the familiar problems which have dogged the program for a decade and a half.

If we are looking at the very big picture, negativity can’t be eliminated from the landscape. One has to see reality for what it is.

But enough about the bigger picture. In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s game against Virginia, Miami gained positive clarity and took a needed step forward in its evolution. The Hurricanes probably knew this on a conceptual level before the game began, but now they know this in a concrete way:

They have to lean on their defense, and they have to avoid huge mistakes.

The Canes watched a home game against Virginia Tech slip away the week before. A tidal wave of interceptions led to a boatload of Hokie points. Miami’s festival of mistakes enabled The U to lose as a 12-point favorite.

A starting point for the Canes against Virginia was to not commit turnovers Sometimes, “addition” can simply mean the elimination of negatives: addition by subtraction.

Miami did exactly that against the ACC Coastal leader and favorite, committing zero turnovers. Virginia endured a blocked field goal – made possible by Miami’s Pat Bethel – and a steady stream of failed red-zone possessions which recalled UCF’s nightmare the Friday before against Cincinnati.

Virginia committed a turnover inside the Miami 25-yard line. Jon Ford punched the ball out. Trajan Bandy made the recovery.

Miami didn’t make any of those debilitating mistakes.

No, the offense didn’t function well for most of the game. Miami’s first drive and its last produced touchdowns; everything in between created only three points. N’Kosi Perry (above) lacked touch on his deep ball. The offensive line wasn’t particularly good (though not as bad as it was against Florida).

Yet, with zero turnovers, Miami didn’t give Virginia any free points. It gave Virginia Tech several free touchdowns six days earlier.

Merely weeding out the awful aspects of its performance was enough, given how well the defense played, especially freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau

He hadn’t been in the starting lineup earlier in the season, but on Friday, he delivered seven tackles, a sack, a fourth-down stop, and a forced fumble recovery.

Perry might not need to win games; he can merely avoid losing them… and allow Rousseau and the defense to win them.

Miami isn’t a complete team. It does not have a complete solution within its grasp. It does, however, possess the roadmap to success in 2019. It probably won’t always work, but it is the way UM needs to play:

Don’t screw up. Shorten the game. Play for field position and a rested defense. Let the defense win.

If Miami can continue to trim the fat and add by subtracting, this season – which probably won’t reach all of its goals – can become a lot better than many expected after any of September’s especially embarrassing moments.

That isn’t a soaring statement of hope, but it’s a lot better than the previous weeks of this season.

For now, that’s a start, and a good step in the right direction.

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Miami Hurricanes

Canes named N’Kosi Perry starting QB against Virginia

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Canes head coach Manny Diaz announced on Wednesday that last year’s part-time starter N’Kosi Perry will be starting under center for the matchup with Virginia. He said that he made the move, because Jarren Williams is dealing with an injury that has him not at full capacity, however, it could in part be a hope to continue the momentum that almost pulled out a huge come from behind win against Virginia Tech on Saturday.

“We’re going to start N’Kosi Perry at quarterback on Friday night.” He added, “Jarren Williams is dealing with an upper extremity issue that leaves him less that 100 percent. N’Kosi gives us a chance to win, I think we all saw last Saturday the improvement in his game and we’re excited to ride behind him and find a way to beat a very well coached and tough-minded Virginia football team.”

The Virginia game will mark Perry’s seventh career start as he sits this season at 35 for 55 with 501 yards and five touchdowns so far.

This past Saturday night, Diaz had seen enough of an ineffective Jarren Williams, who threw three first-half interceptions to the Hokies, So right before the half, he replaced him with Perry. On the final play of the first half, Perry got a key Hail Mary score, saving Miami from a potential shutout, making the game 28 – 7 at the break.

Perry then engineered an 88-yard drive out of the locker room hitting tight end Brevin Jordan to trim the lead in half to 28 – 14. The Hokies still looked to be in great shape, when Hooker threw his third TD pass of the day to cap a Virginia Tech 80-yard drive, and it was 35 – 14 with 12:43 left.

But unfazed, Perry helped Miami get right back in the game hitting Jeff Thomas with a 13-yard score and then,  with another 25-yard score to Thomas, plus a 2-point conversion to make the game 35 – 29 with over three minutes remaining.

Perry, who finished with 422 yards against Virginia Tech despite not playing until the second quarter got Miami in range for one more score. But, he threw incomplete with one second remaining in the back of the endzone and then, his final pass with no time left was batted down at the goal line, and allowed the Hokies their first ACC win of the season.

Diaz indicated Williams remained day-to-day and has been limited in practice this week. It’s undetermined who will be QB1 for the remainder of the season once Williams is back to full speed, but for now Perry is the guy who needs to continue to ignite the passing game that hasn’t fully taken off for Miami this season.

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