This was the year for the Miami Hurricanes to avenge the embarrassing 48-0 loss to Virginia two seasons ago in the final Orange Bowl game.
Under the helm of head coach Randy Shannon, the motivated and now No. 12 Canes pummeled the Cavaliers, 52-17, making it a special win for the juniors and seniors.
“It was an emotional game for me and the seniors who played in that game two years ago,” Shannon said. “To see guys like Jason Fox, Javarris James, Graig Cooper, who were here the last time we played them, come out and play the way they did was unbelievable.”
Miami (7-2, 4-2) outscored Virginia (3-6, 2-3) 28-0 in the second half.
“That was the best we played all year, in the second half,” Shannon said. “The more we keep demanding from our players and coaches what we want, we’ll get a total game.”
Behind offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator John Lovett, the Hurricanes controlled the Cavs from the start.
Offensively, Miami’s potent running attack shined. UM finished with 268 yards on the ground, the most since the Canes ran for 314 against N.C. State in 2007.
Like he did last season against the Cavaliers, junior running back Graig Cooper proved why he is so dynamic as he ran for a career-high 152 yards on 18 carries. He scored a touchdown.
Cooper’s 70-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest since Frank Gore had a 77-yard run in 2001. Playing the Cavs brings out the best in Cooper as he ran for 131 yards last year in Charlottesville.
“It felt real good. Everyone did their job,” said Cooper, who broke the 100-yard mark for the first time this season and moved into eighth place for all-time rushing yards at Miami. “Like they say hard work pays off. All we were thinking about was how they killed us in the old stadium.”
On the defensive side, the Hurricanes held the Cavaliers to a season-low total of 149 yards, including a season-low 75 passing yards. Starting senior quarterback Jameel Sewell was ruled out with a shoulder injury right before game time and head coach Al Groh’s team had to go with junior Marc Verica.
Shannon implemented shorter practices earlier this week to keep the players fresh, which paid dividends.
Despite the dominant running attack and strong defensive presence, the No. 2 play on Sportcenter’s Top 10 list on Saturday night got the 48,350 fans out of their seats.
Sophomore Thearon Collier evaded seven defenders, ran across the field, received two key blocks and scampered into the end zone for a 60-yard punt return, his second of the season.
Collier is the first Hurricane to notch multiple punt returns for touchdowns in a season since 2004 when Devin Hester had three and Roscoe Parrish recorded two.
“I made a couple of guys miss with shifty moves and got back to the wedge and got the touchdown,” said Collier, who broke a 10-10 tie with his return. “Big-time players make big time plays in key spots and I did that.”
Three bone-crushing blocks on the return – by sophomore Ramon Buchanan, redshirt junior Colin McCarthy and senior Chavez Grant paved the way for Collier as he ran up the left sideline for the touchdown.
His return caught the eye of sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris.
“He went out there and made a Devin Hester play,” said Harris, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. “I was happy to rest up some more and sit and let the defense go play its heart out.”
Despite the overwhelming victory, the Canes did not receive any help from Wake Forest, which lost to No. 7 Georgia Tech 30-27 in overtime. The Yellow Jackets must lose to Duke on Saturday, otherwise Miami will not have a chance to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC title game.
The Canes play North Carolina (6-3, 2-3) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Miami has lost all three meetings in Chapel Hill and is on a three-game series losing streak.
Lelan LeDoux may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.