A text message came across each wide receiver’s cell phone before the Miami Hurricanes headed to practice Tuesday. All three starting spots were up for grabs, coaches informed them via their group text, and just about anyone on the roster would have a chance to win them.
Miami listed nine different wideouts as co-starters on its Monday depth chart and the Hurricanes would name starters based on practice performance. After back-to-back ugly performances against the No. 1 Clemson Tigers and Pittsburgh Panthers, the Hurricanes needed to find a fix against the Virginia Cavaliers.
“I reacted to it like, OK, I have to step up,” wide receiver Mike Harley said. “Honestly, I shouldn’t be in that position coming in as a veteran, but coaches got to make some changes and some guys got to make plays.”
Harley said he and the rest of receivers responded with their most serious week of practice yet, and it translated Saturday. Quarterback D’Eriq King bounced back from back-to-back games with fewer than 225 passing yards to throw for 322 in Miami Gardens. Harley was his go-to target, catching 10 passes for 170 yards — the most in a single game by a Miami player since 2014 — and a touchdown. After the No. 11 Hurricanes leaned so heavily on tight ends all throughout the season, their wideouts combined for 18 of Miami’s 21 catches and 265 of its 322 receiving yards.
For the first time all season, the Hurricanes (5-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) won 19-14 because of King’s connection with his wide receivers.
“All those guys made not just even good plays,” coach Manny Diaz said. “They made great plays down the field.”
Miami still stuck with the same three starters Saturday. Wide receivers Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins started out wide, and Harley manned the slot.
Pope had three receptions for 48 yards and made perhaps the most impressive catch by a Hurricanes receiver so far this season. Wiggins caught three passes for 36 yards and helped ice the game in the final minutes by drawing a defensive pass interference. Harley was at the center of everything, though, and it began Sunday.
Harley entered the weekend with just 17 catches for 174 yards. Miami’s leading receiver was Brevin Jordan, who missed nearly half of the Clemson game and the entire Pittsburgh game. Even with the star tight end sidelined last Saturday, the Hurricanes’ wide receivers combined for just seven catches and 109 yards. Miami, once again, won in spite of them.
On Sunday, the Hurricanes returned to practice in Coral Gables and Harley, the lone senior in the receivers corps, gathered the group.
“Our back is against the wall,” he said he told them. “The whole world’s challenging us, so we have to step up to the plate coming into this game.”
On Tuesday, wide receivers coach Rob Likens and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee turned up the pressure, and Miami’s wide receivers needed it.
“We were always taking the shortcuts,” Harley admitted. “We weren’t