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September 07, 2013

O'Donnell rebounded from blocked punt with two game-changing punts in the second quarter, plus other notes

It's not often the punter gets invited to the post-game victory press conference.

But Pat O'Donnell earned himself a place in the spotlight Saturday afternoon with a pair of booming punts in the second quarter while the Hurricanes offense was struggling and the defense badly needed to shift field position.

"We're grateful for Pat O'Donnell. That's all I'm going to say," said sophomore rush end Tyriq McCord, who had the sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery that led to the decisive touchdown run by Duke Johnson.

"He's amazing. In practice he's always booting it about 100 yards average. That's all I can say."

O'Donnell, a graduate student and transfer from Cincinnati, crushed a 55-yard punt from Miami's 17-yard line after the Hurricanes offense went three-and-out to open the second quarter. He then shifted the field again with a 60-yarder, his longest punt of the season, after another three-and-out and Miami pinned back at its 16.

It was a nice bounce-back effort considering the day didn't exactly start great. Florida produced it's 13th blocked kick under coach Will Muschamp when Louichez Purifoy broke through and blockedhis first punt that led to Florida's first touchdown.

"As a punter, that's your job to flip the field when you can," O'Donnell said. "Unfortunately we had some events in the game that didn't go our way. I tip our hats to the Florida Gators. They did a good job rushing the punt."


Saturday's first quarter was one to remember for quarterback Stephen Morris and the Hurricanes, who put up 14 quick points on a seven-yard TD pass to Herb Waters and then a 52-yard scoring pass to Phillip Dorsett.

But the final three quarters were a nightmare.

UM only produced four first downs and 69 yards on 35 plays after exploding out of the gate with 143 yards over the first 15 minutes. Duke Johnson ran for 39 yards in the first quarter, but only 20 more over his final 15 attempts. Morris finished 12 of 25 passing for 162 yards and an interception after going 8-of-11 for 101 yards to open the game. 

UM's 212 total yards of offense were the fewest since a 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech in 2009.

"They have a great defense, one of the best defenses we’re going to play all year, one of the best defenses in the country," said Johnson, who was babying his left foot after the game. "They just came out and did their job and did it better than I expected."

Said Morris: "They made a lot of great adjustments. They knew when we were going to run and throw it. that was the best defensive line I ever went against, but we did what we needed to do to win the game."


The Hurricanes, who broke into the polls earlier this week for the first time under coach Al Golden at No. 24 in the ESPN Coaches' poll, should find themselves moving up when the new polls are released Sunday.

Morris, who said Tuesday he could give "two you know whats" about where Miami was ranked, kept the same mindset after Saturday's win.

"It really doesn’t matter to me or this team," Morris said. "Whoever is in front of us we’re going to look at as a threat and we’ve got to do our best to win that game, no matter what we’re ranked no matter; if we’re not ranked. Our biggest focus is to continue on and moving forward."

> Safety A.J. Highsmith had the tackle on Florida's failed two-point conversion attempt and the recovery on the Gators' failed onside kick attempt late in the game.

> Senior Seantrel Henderson made his first start of the season at right tackle. Junior Jonathan Feliciano, who started at right tackle in the open, slid to left guard. The rest of Miami's starters remained the same.

> Safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who had an interception in the first half, was helped off the field with 5:29 to play in the third quarter. Trainers were looking at his left leg.

> Linebacker Thurston Armbrister left the game with a left ankle injury early in the fourth quarter.

Morris, Duke Johnson, receivers talk about the offense's rough day against the Gators

VIDEO: Perryman, Howard, McCord talk about their big defensive plays in UM's win over Florida

VIDEO: Al Golden calls Saturday's win over Gators "almost cathartic.. 26 months unleashed."


Overall thoughts on the victory...
“It’s a good win. We’ve been through so much. It was almost cathartic, to be honest with you. It was 26 months just unleashed there in the last four or five seconds. I’m proud of these guys. You guys watched us grow – we couldn’t handle this setting a year ago. We started to catch on a little bit by the time we got to Florida State, then we played better against Virginia Tech, and obviously because of the intensity, this one is a level higher early in the year. I’m real proud of the way the guys fought. There was nothing easy on that field for either team. It was a good hardnosed football game, physical, and I’m just real proud of our guys’ mental toughness, conditioning and resiliency.”

On the performance of the defense...
“I’ve been saying it since the spring - I think they’ve grown up. We played so many young guys a year ago at places you can’t play young guys. We’re so much stronger, bigger up front. Our linebackers are all 20 pounds heavier. The secondary doesn’t miss rotations anymore like last year, so there are no blown gaps. Florida is good. Their running backs are good. Their line is good. Of course they make a good run in there. They settled down in the red zone, made a short yardage stop, took the ball away a couple of times. It says a lot about Coach D’Onofrio, the game plan that he put together, and really the whole defense. The whole defense got a game ball.”

On postgame emotions and reaction...
“I was excited. You guys know me – I don’t really hide my emotions. I just wanted our guys to celebrate. It really had nothing to do with other than running over there, being classy and courteous. I did want the kids in that endzone because I wanted them to thank all those people that stood by us, all the guys that - no matter what - they’re there. They stood with us. It was a good moment for our guys.”

On Florida’s failed two-point conversion attempt...
“We had a call that we practiced. You got the right guys out there - Jimmy Gaines and Denzel Perryman got us lined up. It didn’t matter because we matched it well, they threw it out there, and we were prepared. We worked on that last year before North Carolina too, but we didn’t get lined up. It’s just a sign of our maturity. Last year at North Carolina, they go in and it ended up being a big play in the game. Today, guys line up and put it to bed. That ended up being a big stop.”

On the performance of Denzel Perryman...
“He is in great condition. He’s 240 [pounds] and he’s in great condition. Our team is in great condition. We’re mentally tough. Was it all perfect down the stretch? No, but there was no one laying around, especially the defense. They did a great job of trying to wear us down. Our defense was in great shape - they played hard and they finished. You can ask Denzel, but the one thing that’s different about Denzel Perryman right now are the habits that he’s forming every day - by how he’s finishing and how he’s practicing, and it’s carrying over to the game. I hope he’s a believer now, I hope he understands that it is important.”

On what went through his mind during the final seconds...
“It’s been such a hard road. We’ve just been battling this thing, and obviously they’re one of the teams we’ve been battling during this thing. I think you guys can figure that out. It was a very cathartic moment, it was a great moment for our guys – all those guys that not only chose the University of Miami during this, but stood there and fought. We have such a long way to go, I can’t say that enough, to be that kind of program. Big win? Yes. Program yet? No. We have to get back to work, get better, be mature, and go about our business every day. I guess that’s what was running through my mind, how proud I was of all the guys that bought in to what we’ve been doing. They deserved to win this one. They deserved victory.”

On Tyriq McCord’s sack-fumble and Tracy Howard’s interception...
“They’re big. They’re all big plays. What did we have today, four turnovers? Five? That’s big. Guys are where they’re supposed to be. Tracy is where he’s supposed to be. Tyriq comes around and he’s free. Then you trust them to go ahead to make the play and finish the play, they’re good enough to do it. A year ago, maybe that would have been a sack, but it wouldn’t have been a sack fumble. Same thing with Tracy - maybe he would have gotten a pass break-up. But he was in great position, he’s mature, and he has been studying the patterns they’ve been getting. He got a good break on it. I’m happy for those guys.”

On performance of the team’s offense...
“It was a war. I’m not going to make any excuses. Our play count was so low at halftime because we didn’t convert on third down. Give them credit – they’re good. That’s a good defense. They didn’t give us anything. Our guys fought, scratched and clawed, and sometimes you have to win like that. They had the guts to win like that, which was important.”

On passing game rhythm and sync...
“We’re going to work on it. I just want them to enjoy this. We did what we had to do to win. We’ll worry about the stats and completions tomorrow. We’ll make a commitment to get that fixed in the bye week. I just want them to enjoy this tonight. That was a tough game. Give [Florida] credit - they were deep on defense, they rotated a lot of guys, they came off the ball and played low, they disrupted a lot of routes. We did have patience, except for the one third-and-long where we could have made a better decision. Other than that, we really displayed patience as an offensive staff and really believed in the defense for the first time in a while. We really were patient with the run.”

On looking like a more mature team in Week Two...
“I knew that. I’ve been saying it all along. We are different - we’re physically different, not just mentally different. We’re more mature. We’re not a finished product. We have to go back to work. There are a lot of things we have to fix. We certainly can’t let them have a quick score here, we can’t do that. We’ll get back to work tomorrow. I’m proud of the guys, and happy that we came out with a hard-fought win.”

Watch the Canes celebrate the win over the Gators on the way to the locker room

I shot this video in the tunnel. Listen to them sing: "It's Great to be a Miami Hurricane!"

Gameday blog: Canes vs. Gators

It's the big day. 

We'll be hosting our live chat as usual. Join us in CoverItLive. 

Kickoff is at noon. Gators are a three-point favorite. Game can be seen on ESPN and heard on WQAM (560 AM locally). Make sure to follow me on Twitter @Manny_Navarro. I posted plenty of pregame Vines and photos.