What started as a dark, stormy day turned into the Hurricanes’ shining moment as Miami beat the Florida Gators 21-16 on Saturday.
The Canes (2-0) shot up to No. 15 in the latest Associated Press poll, while the Gators (1-1) slipped to 18th.
In front of the largest UM home crowd at Sun Life Stadium (76,869) in history, senior quarterback Stephen Morris and the hungry band of Hurricanes claimed its first win over a top-10 team since the win over No. 8 Oklahoma in 2009.
Morris threw two first-quarter touchdowns, a seven-yard touch pass to sophomore Herb Waters and a 52-yard bomb to junior Phillip Dorsett.
Sophomore running back Duke Johnson was the day’s leading rusher with 59 total yards, but averaged just 2.8 yards a carry against the stonewall Florida defense. Johnson contributed a 2-yard touchdown run.
The offensive stats were actually lopsided in Florida’s favor. The Gators topped Miami 413-212 in total yards, with a 22-10 edge in first downs. They doubled the Canes’ time of possession and held Miami to a single third down conversion in 11 attempts.
Saturday’s energy and power came from the young Miami defense that forced five turnovers. Prior to the upset of then-No. 12 Florida, the defense was a question mark.
“I’ve been saying it since the spring: I think they’ve grown up,” head coach Al Golden said. “We played so many young guys a year ago at places you can’t play young guys. We’re so much stronger, bigger up front. Our linebackers are all 20 pounds heavier. The secondary doesn’t miss rotations anymore like last year, so there are no blown gaps.”
Golden gave praise to the unit in its entirety.
“It says a lot about coach [Mark] D’Onofrio, the game plan that he put together and really the whole defense. The whole defense got a game ball,” he said.
Florida made costly mistakes deep in Miami’s territory, keeping their scoring output low despite high yardage. Sophomore Rayshawn Jenkins intercepted Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel at the 4-yard line, and Tracy Howard picked him off in the fourth quarter just 12 yards shy of the end zone.
Denzel Perryman recorded 13 tackles for the Canes and forced a fumble that led to Miami’s first touchdown.
“They are smash mouth football like I said in the beginning of the week,” Perryman said. “We were prepared for it and right now, I’m feeling real good.”
Miami punter Pat O’Donnell was an unsung hero, tilting the momentum in terms of field position. He posted an impressive 392 yards over eight punts, averaging 49 yards.
Sophomore linebacker Tyriq McCord set up the Hurricanes’ winning touchdown sacking Driskel for a loss of nine yards, and recovering his own forced fumble at the Florida 4-yard line.
“A sack-caused fumble is the best play in football just like coach Judd said. I’ve been dreaming of this moment. This is why you come to the U to play the Florida Gators. I sleep and dream about a sack-caused fumble, and I wake up, now, it’s a reality. That’s all I can say about it. I’m just happy right now,” McCord said.
Sun Life erupted in celebration as junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo sacked Driskel as the final seconds ticked away.
Golden, as much relieved as excited, sprinted across the field to celebrate the biggest win of his tenure, one that validated the work Miami has done to overcome its long-running NCAA debacle.
“It was a very cathartic moment, it was a great moment for our guys – all those guys that not only chose the University of Miami during this, but stood there and fought,” Golden said. “We have such a long way to go, I can’t say that enough, to be that kind of program. Big win? Yes. Program yet? No. We have to get back to work, get better, be mature and go about our business every day. I guess that’s what was running through my mind, how proud I was of all the guys that bought into what we’ve been doing. They deserved to win this one. They deserved victory.”