Canes’ fierce comeback ends in defeat

Sophomore Eduardo Clements hangs his head after Virginia Tech scored in the final minute to crush the Canes' comeback. Miami is now 0-2 in ACC play for the first time since 2008. Photo courtesy Steve Stilton

Despite quarterback Jacory Harris’ nearly flawless game and running back Lamar Miller’s fifth-straight 100-yard effort, Miami could not overcome near ineptitude on the part of the defense. The Hurricanes (2-3, 0-2) fell on the road to Virginia Tech, 38-35, in what was arguably the best offensive performance this season.

“We’re not a defense who can just line up and play a Canes-2 [defense], that’s not who we are,” Golden said. “We just can’t line up and let them loose. We’re not that kind of unit right now.”

Against the Hokies (5-1, 1-1), the Hurricanes again struggled to stop the opposing offense from moving the ball almost at will. Only linebacker Sean Spence, who again recorded double-digit tackles, was a bright spot on a defensive unit that has yet to find any identity.

Twice did Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, who finished with three touchdowns and 310 yards passing, complete long touchdown passes: one a 40-yard completion over safety Ray-Ray Armstrong to Danny Coale, the other a 60-yard post route to Jarrett Boykin after Miami’s kickoff sailed out of bounds.

“It’s hard to get any sort of continuity,” Golden said. “I think Armstrong would be the first to tell you he didn’t play well. It was his first game out there in this defense and it looked like it. He didn’t perform the way he’s capable of performing, and clearly we have issues on the defensive line.”

Frustrating as the defensive performance was, the Hurricane offense nearly won the game on its own. Miller turned in a performance of 166 yards on the ground and 23 in the air, accounting for two touchdowns. The running attack was vicious against a Virginia Tech defense that had not allowed a rusher 100 yards this season.

As for Harris, his effort dovetailed beautifully with that of his running back. The senior quarterback finished the game with three touchdowns and 267 yards through the air, completing 62 percent of his passes. Harris did not throw an interception for the second straight week.

Over a six-drive span from the second quarter until late in the fourth, the offense ended five drives with touchdowns. Their only non-touchdown drive occurred when Harris took a knee before the half.

Whatever shot the Hurricanes had at clinching a spot in the ACC Championship game this year is all but lost. Miami currently stands last in the Coastal Division with two conference losses, while Georgia Tech remains unbeaten and Virginia Tech holds any potential tiebreaker over the Canes.

But while defensive struggles may be too much for this team to overcome, mental resilience has been a crucial constant. Miami has yet to get embarrassed in a game, though a 21-7 halftime deficit could have been the moment for the wheels to come off.

Including the team’s first loss to Maryland, where eight players were suspended, in each loss the Canes have fallen by one score and had late-game opportunities to take the lead.

While the offense executed to near perfection in a hostile environment, the defensive unit’s inability to make any sort of stop killed the chance of an update. Golden doesn’t see that trend ending anytime soon.

“We have a long way to go on defense,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”