Turnover-prone Jackets fall 35-14 to Miami

Sophomore wideout Nate McCollum locates the ball for a score against Miami. McCollum recorded his second straight game with over 100 yards and a score, his third such game this season. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

On paper, Miami matched up well with the Jackets. At 4-5, both teams had the same record heading into the game.

Miami starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was ruled out following a shoulder injury suffered Nov. 5 against Florida State, so freshman quarterback Jacurri Brown, a first-time starter, got the nod to face a Tech team coming off a big win. In their comeback victory against Virginia Tech, the Jackets showed poise, freshman quarterback Zach Pyron helmed a fairly explosive offense and the defense forced takeaways in critical moments. Conversely, the Hurricanes were nursing a blowout loss to FSU where they looked like the team that lost to Middle Tennessee earlier this season.

It seemed that the defense would be able to continue taking the ball away, since Brown completed barely over half of his passes for 39 yards and an interception against FSU. If the Jackets’ offense could build on the previous week’s performance, especially given the lackluster nature of the Miami secondary, they had a clear path to victory. Unfortunately, the defense was ripped apart in the fourth quarter and failed to force any turnovers. The Miami defense forced four picks and handled a Tech offense that reverted to the punchless state seen too often this season. 

Miami set the tone from their first offensive drive, controlling the pace of the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Brown used his legs on numerous quarterback scrambles to extend the drive and capped it off with a touchdown pass to tight end Will Mallory. Unfortunately, while sophomore receiver Nate McCollum got going early with big catches of 16 and 11 yards, Pyron was picked off by Miami defensive back Kamren Kinchens. The defense was able to force a punt, but Pyron and the offense stalled out again on their next possession despite a 23-yard run by redshirt junior running back Dontae Smith. The Hurricanes had no such problems, using their ground game and a few well-timed throws from Brown to get into the end zone courtesy of a Brown touchdown pass. 

Down 14-0, the pressure was on the Tech offense to find a spark, but they were not able to advance and settled for yet another punt from sophomore punter David Shanahan. However, Tech’s next possession finally showed signs of life. Backed up on their own 1-yard line, the Jackets had a 99-yard drive to the end zone where Pyron and freshman running back Jamie Felix took over. Pyron and Felix were responsible for three of the third and fourth down conversions on this drive, keeping the Jackets going as McCollum made another big play and got into the end zone for the nine-yard score. Tech went into the locker room only down 14-7 at half, which seemed like a positive sign for the rest of the game. 

The third quarter was a stout performance from both defenses. With Tech being down, they needed a score, but Pyron tried to throw the ball deep and was picked by defensive back Tyrique Stevenson to set Miami up at their own 9-yard line. Worse still, Pyron ended up hurting his shoulder in the third quarter and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Gibson came in for Pyron to open up the fourth quarter.

If the Jackets had any chance of winning this game, it evaporated in the fourth quarter. Starting at their own 5-yard line, the Gibson-led offense drew a pass-interference penalty on Miami to reach their own 14-yard line. However, Gibson went deep and threw an interception to Kinchens on his second pass of the day that proved to be a Miami rallying point. Brown drove the Hurricanes down the field 51 yards and found wide receiver Colbie Young for his second touchdown of the day, making the score 21-7. Now down by 14, Gibson was sacked on first down and the Jackets stalled out on third down. Going for it on fourth down, Gibson threw an incomplete pass, setting the Hurricanes up with great field position at the Tech 34-yard line. They easily punched it in behind running back Jaylan Knighton and widened the score to 28-7. The run defense and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Tech safety Clayton Powell-Lee did the Jackets no favors and essentially sealed the game. 

Even though the next Tech offensive possession did not matter, Gibson put together a fairly nice drive, as the Jackets did not run a single time and got within the Miami 12-yard line. However, Gibson threw a red-zone interception to Kinchens, who recorded his third pick of the day and returned the pass 99 yards for the pick-six. With the game out of reach at 35-7, the Hurricanes could play it safe and conceded a harmless 7-yard touchdown pass from Gibson to Felix to end the game at 35-14. 

While ending the game with points, the Jackets offense often looked lost. They did not protect the football, giving it away four times and letting the Hurricanes build momentum. A large part of those turnovers was because the rushing attack disappeared. Pyron had over half of the team’s 129 rushing yards. The defense largely fell apart in the fourth quarter, especially on the ground, where the Hurricanes rushed for a total of 217 yards and Brown himself ran for 87 yards. Miami’s rushing success allowed them to control the game throughout — the Tech run defense failed to hold up at the point of attack. Even though Brown threw three touchdown passes, he only threw nineteen total passes because it was not necessary to throw more. Hopefully, the Jackets can improve the run defense and set a positive foundation for limiting opponents on the ground as they close out the year.