Jacolby George had just finished his career receiving day at Florida State, but his eyes were downcast and his body language forlorn.
Who could blame him? After an exceptional performance of 153 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches, the Hurricanes couldn’t capitalize on their final drive that began with 4:26 left, and they lost 27-20 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“I feel bad,’’ George said softly. “We wanted a different outcome. We fought. We fought hard.’’
When Miami (6-4, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts ninth-ranked Louisville (9-1, 6-1) at noon Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, George will be a vital target of Hurricanes starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke.
Coach Mario Cristobal announced Monday that Van Dyke would start against Louisville after true freshman Emory Williams, who replaced Van Dyke last game, broke his left arm at FSU and is out for the remaining three games.
George, a 6-0, 176-pound junior out of Plantation High, is doing his best to revive a UM passing game that, after an encouraging first part of the season, has lost its way. In 10 consecutive starts this season, George leads Miami with 707 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 46 catches. He is 31st nationally with his seven touchdown catches and earned ACC Receiver of the Week on Monday for the second time.
Of his 153 yards Saturday, 131 were after catch. His Pro Football Focus grade of 75 topped all Miami offensive players Saturday.
“I love that guy, man,’’ Cristobal said of the quiet and seemingly shy George. “I’m gonna push him hard because he carries a lot of responsibility. He’s got great wiggle, unbelievable balance, body control and he could track the ball.”
George’s five receptions were all delivered by Williams. In order:
▪ A third-down 43-yarder to the FSU 25.
▪ A second-down 25-yarder to the UM 40.
▪ A third-and-goal, 3-yard touchdown on the fade to the right rear corner of the end zone to cut FSU’s lead to 10-7.
▪ A 3-yard loss to the FSU 33 that was immediately followed by Andres Borregales’ 51-yard field goal to give UM a 13-10 lead.
▪ And the 85-yard beauty that began at the UM 15-yard line and was placed between two FSU defenders who collided while George made the elite catch at the UM 35, then sprinted toward the end zone to make it 27-20 with 8:22 left in the game.
“That long one, I don’t know if you saw the way he leaned into it, laid hands and then, still, through some obstruction, found a way to catch it,’’ Cristobal said. “It’s high-level stuff.
“And that delayed fade down at the goal line, that’s hours and hours and reps and reps of practice.’’
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said George is especially good at finesse moves in man coverage.
“He has become a really steady player,’’ Dawson said. “That game was one that was really on the verge of happening for a while. We just need more of them.”
UM’s passing offense is ranked 45th nationally (255.6 yards a game), down from 14th (310.8) after the first six games exactly one month ago. The plummet, after the Oct. 14 North Carolina road game, coincides with when Van Dyke got pummeled that game and hurt his right knee, ribs and back. He began this season with three torn ligaments on the index finger of his throwing hand, and still had it covered in black tape at FSU.
The Cardinals are 12th nationally in scoring defense (17.1 points allowed per game), ninth in rushing defense (91.9), third in red-zone defense, 19th in passes intercepted (11) and 22nd in team passing efficiency defense.
George said Tuesday during a Zoom conference that the players have trust in all their quarterbacks, including Van Dyke, who has thrown 11 interceptions in his past five games. George said the players “just have to have confidence in knowing that what Coach Dawson calls is going to work.’’
Of his second touchdown Saturday, George said he “knew Emory was going to put it up and I just had to fight for it.’’
“I leaned back into the DB and he gave me a chance. It feels great scoring in a big game like that, especially when it’s a rivalry game. ... It’s sad that he got hurt the way he did and we didn’t get the win for him,’’ George said of Williams. “Emory played his heart out.’’
Last year, George missed five of his first six games, the first two because of suspension for unspecified reasons. He returned in a loss at Texas A&M, catching three passes for 41 yards and sustaining a broken thumb in the process. He missed the next three games before finishing the season with 13 catches for 130 yards and no touchdowns.
“In the offseason, I had to work extra hard to get my strength back in my hand,’’ he said.
He also takes pride in his ability to track the ball: “Always have to keep your eyes on the ball no matter what.’’
George said he and new receivers coach Kevin Beard, a wideout on UM’s last national championship team of 2001, are close. Beard is also from Broward County and starred at Plantation High School.
“It’s easy for him to listen to me because he knows that I’ve been down this road,’’ Beard said of George during spring practice. “And so everything he does, I already know the process before he did it. ... I can talk him through [any] frustration and say, ‘Boom. This is how you learn.’’’
George was a four-star prospect and Under Armour All-American rated as Broward’s No. 2 wide receiver as a Plantation High senior. He also was a top target for Georgia Tech and Penn State after he initially decommited from the Hurricanes and then recommitted in late October 2020.
As a UM freshman he finished with seven catches for 183 yards and a touchdown. His left-handed “circus’’ grab, per ACC Digital Network, against Duke that year was viewed thousands of time on video as he was blanketed by the defender. The ball bounced off the defensive back’s helmet and then against George’s knee before he scooped it up and was forced out of bounds for the 35-yard reception.
“He can make a play any time he wants to as long he gives 100 percent,’’ right guard Anez Cooper said Tuesday. “Jacoby George can be the best offensive player on the field.’’