After last Saturday’s loss in Nebraska, Miami’s defense faced a lot of criticism heading into a critical ACC Coastal matchup with Duke. But Mark D’onofrio’s defense, which has been the butt of many jokes over the last few years, finally stepped up on Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium, causing three turnovers and holding Duke to only 264 total yards as the Hurricanes took down the Blue Devils, 22-10.
The nearly 45,000 in attendance made for a loud and rowdy atmosphere, even with the pouring rain in the second half. The Hurricanes were able to stay focused with strong leadership from its two biggest stars: Denzel Perryman and Duke Johnson.
Though the Blue Devils lost by double digits, the team fought hard until late in the game. That’s when Perryman, the defensive captain and a preseason All-American, came up big with a game-sealing interception.
This came just a few plays after Perryman dropped what should have been an interception, and was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when he did push-ups on the field as punishment for his drop. Perryman also forced a fumble in the third quarter, his first of the season and fifth of his career.
While Perryman made arguably the biggest play of the game, the defense looked wholly different than at Nebraska the previous week. There was fire in the players’ eyes, both on the field and on the sideline, and they were pumped up from start to finish.
“Miami had a lot of energy tonight. You could definitely tell defensively that they were fired up,” said Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder. “You could definitely tell they had a different energy level than previous games and had a lot of intensity.”
Defensive back Ladarius Gunter also came up with an interception, linebacker Raphael Kirby set a new career high with six tackles, and lineman Ufomba Kamalu recorded two important pass breakups.
“We played hard. We tackled better. As the game wore on, we got to the quarterback better, which says something about our conditioning,” Head Coach Al Golden said. “I was not satisfied with that early in the game, but I thought we tackled better and we must have ended up with a big number of pass breakups.”
Johnson was the workhorse all night, rushing for 155 yards on 25 carries (6.2 YPC) and the game’s first touchdown. It was Johnson’s first 100-yard game this season and the eighth of his career. He moved into fifth on Miami’s all-time rushing list with 2,392 yards, surpassing former Hurricane great Graig Cooper.
“He [Johnson] was dealing with a little bit of a sprain, but I think he’ll be fine. I don’t know how much it affected him. He did it early in the game and kept fighting through it,” Golden said. “I’m proud of him. He’s had a great look. 170 [yards]or 180 last week, 160 this week, maybe more than that with the receiving … he’s putting together good weeks for us.”
True freshmen continued to come up big for the Hurricanes. Joe Yearby impressed yet again, rushing for 61 yards on nine carries. He scored his first career touchdown, a 47-yard reception, midway through the fourth quarter that just about put the game out of reach.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya looked as comfortable in the pocket as he has all season, completing 20 of 34 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. However, most importantly, no interceptions for the first time in his career. He hit Herb Waters for a 28-yard touchdown on a critical fourth and 19 early in the third quarter that put the Hurricanes up 16-7.
The Hurricanes travel to Atlanta next Saturday to take on the undefeated Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech is in first place in the ACC Coastal and is coming off a bye week after a huge win at Virginia Tech.