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Susan Miller Degnan | Miami Herald | October 14, 2018

Miami football: Hurricanes can still win Coastal Division and get into ACC championship game

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — As bleak as it seems now for Miami, the Canes can still take a repeat trip to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference title game on Dec. 1 at Bank of America Stadium.

If the Hurricanes — 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the ACC after losing 16-13 Saturday to Virginia — win out and Virginia (4-2, 2-1) loses one of its five remaining conference games, Miami would still win the Coastal Division of the ACC and meet the winner of the Atlantic Division — likely Clemson (6-0, 3-0).

UM still has games left against Boston College on Oct. 26, Duke at home on Nov. 3, Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Nov. 10, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Nov. 17 and Pittsburgh at home on Nov. 24.

"I say that we're owning it," said Miami linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who told his teammates after the game to "look in the mirror."

"That's one thing I told the team, we have to win this night. It happened the way that it happened but we understand we still control our own destiny."

Added coach Mark Richt: "We still have got an opportunity to get to Charlotte," coach Mark Richt said. "That's not dead. That's not over."

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— Miami's defense combined for nine tackles for loss, four sacks and forced three turnovers — two interceptions by sophomore Trajan Bandy and one by safety Sheldrick Redwine — on Saturday.

When asked about his decision to go for an onside kick with 3:04 left in the game, here's what Richt said: "Once we got the penalty and the ball got moved up 15 yards, if you go onside and get it, it's glorious. If you go onside and you don't get it, usually the guy gets tackled right there.

"It was 10 to 15 yards of field position if you don't get it and you still have time and three timeouts. You can still get a stop. But obviously, returning the ball as far as they did turned out to be bad. You can debate that both ways. If there wasn't the penalty it wouldn't have been a thought. We would have kicked it deep. You kick it deep, get a three-and-out, get the ball back, better field position. You've got some timeouts to work with.

"Could have gone that way or we might have got it and everybody would have thought it was a great idea. That's how it is on those type of decisions. When they work they're brilliant. When they don't work you question them."

TRUE FRESHMEN CONTRIBUTIONS

Coming into Saturday night's game, several true freshmen had made considerable contributions for the Hurricanes.

One of them, however, did not make the trip this weekend.

Brian Hightower, a 6-3, 210-pounder, did not travel to Charlottesville after sustaining an injury this past week in practice, per WQAM. Hightower had played in every game leading into Saturday and had one start. He has 60 receiving yards on four catches and had a 32-yard touchdown in the opener against LSU.

Hightower is listed behind redshirt junior Lawrence Cager on the depth chart.

Leading UM receiver/return specialist Jeff Thomas, a sophomore who hurt his knee last week when he was yanked to the ground by his facemask and got up limping heavily, did travel to Charlottesville, and started.

As for the other true freshmen, the Virginia game featured two more Hurricanes making memorable marks.

DJ Scaife, a 6-3, 300-pound Miami Southridge alum, got his first career start against the Cavaliers at right offensive tackle, causing a shift in the offensive line that included former right tackle Navaughn Donaldson, a sophomore, moving inside to guard and usual right guard Hayden Mahoney, a redshirt junior, moving to the left side.

And fellow true freshman Dee Wiggins, a 6-3, 195-pounder out of Miami Southridge, made his first career start at receiver alongside veterans Cager and Thomas.

Scaife and Wiggins became the and fourth and fifth Canes true freshmen to record a start. The others: tight end Brevin Jordan (five starts), tight end Will Mallory (one) and Hightower (one).

The top true freshman to contribute this season, with five starts in his six games played, has been tight end Jordan, who was tied for second in receptions with 15 and receiving touchdowns with four coming into Virginia. He had 174 receiving yards and was averaging 11.6 yards a catch.

Jordan, the nation's No. 1 tight end as a high school player at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, immediately got substantial action after UM scholarship tight ends Michael Irvin II and Brian Polendey both sustained knee injuries that required surgery.

"Those guys are contributing [greatly]," UM senior preseason All-American safety Jaquan Johnson said this week of the nearly 20 true freshmen who have seen action. He cited cornerback and special teams standout Al Blades, Jordan "on offense, making plays and blocking well" and receiver Dee Wiggins, a guy who down the field blocks.

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"Once you see effort like that from a freshman, they make you want to play better."

This article is written by Susan Miller Degnan from Miami Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.