Miami’s win against Georgia Tech on Saturday sprung a series of firsts for the season: first back-to-back wins, first time with a winning record, and – most importantly – the first time the Hurricanes (4-3, 2-2 ACC) showed up on both sides of the ball.
“If you look at what the defense did today, there were about 25 plays in that game against North Carolina where everyone was doing exactly what they needed to do,” head coach Al Golden said. “I guarantee you there was at least twice as many today. Everybody was doing their job.”
Both offenses struggled on the day, a big surprise for two teams that had previously found success with offensive prowess negating defensive woes. Heading into the matchup, the Yellow Jackets (6-2, 3-2 ACC) averaged 516 yards of total offense per game. The Canes held them to just 211.
Miami’s production offensively was only marginally better; they accounted for 17 points and totaled just 262 yards of offense.
Jacory Harris, who finished with eight completions on 23 pass attempts, threw no touchdowns and one interception. Even though the picked ball was a pass that deflected off tight end John Calhoun’s facemask, it marks the first interception for Harris since the second quarter against Kansas State.
The Canes’ defensive tone was set early on. Senior safety JoJo Nicolas intercepted an errant throw by Tech quarterback Tevin Washington on their first offensive snap and fell on a muffed punt in the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter.
“He’s done a great job; Jo’s one of our leaders,” Golden said. “He’s done a great job of adapting to safety after giving us the first six months at corner. That’s the type of player we’re looking for.”
Nicolas, a career cornerback who made the transition to safety this summer to fill in for then-suspended Ray-Ray Armstrong, plays each game through unimaginable heartbreak. Following the death of his son, who was born premature, this summer, Nicolas carries his blanket and clasps it between his hands in prayer before every game.
This season, his teammates have found a more vocal, active leader in the locker room after trauma that could have broken Nicolas down. No longer content to let his play speak for himself, Nicolas stepped-up his rhetorical skills. He was a part of the group of players who spoke out during halftime of this season’s Virginia Tech game, and since then his teammates have taken notice.
“Back in the past JoJo was a mute,” Spence said. “He said a couple of things here and there, but he was a guy that always led by example. Now he’s leading by example and also speaking up and making sure we’re doing the right things. This is the most I’ve ever heard him talk since I’ve been here.”
Any joy that came from this win will have a short shelf-life, as Miami has a 96-hour turnaround before they play Virginia at home this Thursday. But the win kept a sliver of hope alive for an ACC Championship game, even if Golden refuses to acknowledge it.
“You put your head down and keep pounding away until the season’s over,” Golden said. “We’re just trying to teach them that process, and the gratification is we’re sitting here at 4-3 after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.”