With transfer rumors swirling, Miami missing several players against North Carolina

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As the Miami Hurricanes expect multiple players to enter the transfer portal in the coming days and weeks, Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins were among the players not in uniform for Miami’s game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

While the Hurricanes did not give a reason for the wide receivers’ absences, Pope and Wiggins have both seen their roles drastically shrink this season, and did not participate in practice Tuesday in Coral Gables. Both are expected to transfer.

Miami is missing several other players for its game at Kenan Stadium. Wide receiver Michael Redding III and linebacker Sam Brooks Jr. are both out for undisclosed reasons, while linebacker Avery Huff and cornerback Malik Curtis are out with an illness, WQAM reported. A virus — not COVID-19 — was spreading around campus this week, coach Manny Diaz said Wednesday.

Linebacker Keontra Smith, striker Amari Carter, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, and defensive linemen Jared Harrison-Hunte and Jordan Miller, however, were all active after dealing with injuries ahead of Miami’s bye week.

The Hurricanes haven’t said which players they expect to transfer, but Diaz said Wednesday he and his staff spent the bye week having several “you’re-in-or-you’re-out” conversations.

“Without commenting on anybody in particular, when older guys, and some who even started, have had their roles changed, that’s hard,” Diaz said Wednesday. “Some guys accept that. Some guys don’t. That can create division in your locker room.”

Pope and Wiggins both started every game last season, only to move into reserve roles this year after several underclassmen surpassed them on the depth chart. Wiggins, who had 31 catches for 358 yards and three touchdowns last year, has played in four games this season with four catches for 25 yards. Pope, who had 33 catches for 403 yards and two touchdowns last year, has only played in two and has not recorded a catch. He even toyed with a move to defensive back last month and suited up at cornerback in the Miami’s blowout win against the FCS Central Connecticut State Blue Devils.

Pope and Wiggins both came to the Hurricanes from Miami Southridge as members of Miami’s lauded 2018 recruiting class, and have had rocky college careers. Wiggins, who was a three-star recruit in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2018, contributed as a freshman, but has struggled with drops and inconsistency. Pope, who was a five-star prospect in Rivals.com’s rankings and is still one of only three former five-star recruits on the roster, barely played as a freshman and finally carved out a starting role last year, but he also struggled with drops and consistency.

The Hurricanes also have a number of players dealing with long-term injuries, including running back Donald Chaney Jr., cornerback Al Blades Jr., quarterbacks D’Eriq King and Jake Garcia, and offensive linemen Jalen Rivers, Corey Gaynor and John Campbell Jr. Garcia, who is out until at least November, made the trip to North Carolina and was wearing a boot on his left foot after he had ankle surgery last month.

Same starting O-line

The Hurricanes started the same five offensive linemen for the third consecutive game: left tackle Zion Nelson, left guard Navaughn Donaldson, center Jakai Clark, right guard DJ Scaife and right tackle Jarrid Williams. UM at first had planned to redshirt Clark, a third-year sophomore, because he and his family had requested it after he underwent shoulder surgery following a car accident the night of the April 17 spring game.

Clark, listed as 6-3 and 305 pounds, had surgery after the accident to repair the AC join in his right shoulder.

“The decision to redshirt came based off injury,’’ Clark said earlier in the week. “We didn’t want to risk me getting hurt. Now, with [rehabbing usual starter] Corey [Gaynor] going down, I told [O-line] coach [Garin] Justice if I have to play I will.

“My shoulder is perfectly fine. I feel 100 percent.’’

UNC head coach Mack Brown and Miami coach Manny Diaz meet before the game as the Hurricanes play against the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday, September 7, 2019.
UNC head coach Mack Brown and Miami coach Manny Diaz meet before the game as the Hurricanes play against the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Diaz/Brown connection

Diaz faced his former boss Mack Brown for the third time. Coming into Saturday’s game, Diaz had lost against Brown as head coach in 2019 and ‘20.

About half an hour before kickoff, Diaz and Brown met at midfield for a brief conversation.

Diaz was the former Texas defensive coordinator who was fired by Brown early during the 2013 regular season after the Longhorns’ defense gave up 550 rushing yards — the most allowed in school history — against Brigham Young.

“Our performance on defense last night was unacceptable, and we need to change that,’’ Brown said after Texas announced Diaz had been fired. Brown said before UM and UNC’s meeting in 2019 that he and Diaz still maintained a relationship. “We weren’t as good, and I had three older coaches in there and things weren’t working,’’ Brown said about the firing. “So I could have fired all of them. Very honestly, we weren’t playing good defense, so it wasn’t him, it was just the timing.

“And he understood that. Manny is a professional and he’s really good. We’ve moved way beyond that.’’