Updated at 5:24 p.m. on 11/21 with quotes from Interim Head Coach Larry Scott and players.
The Hurricanes demolished Georgia Tech 38-21 in front of 51,355 fans on Senior Day in Miami’s final home game of the season at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday afternoon. While the seniors were honored before the game, it was the juniors and underclassmen that overwhelmed the Yellow Jackets.
Freshman running back Mark Walton ran for two touchdowns and caught another, sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya had another solid performance and junior linebacker Jermaine Grace scored Miami’s first defensive touchdown since Oct. 11, 2014. Junior safety Jamal Carter had a pick and a fumble recovery while fellow junior defensive back Corn Elder got his second interception of the season.
“Sending [the seniors] off the right way was huge for us this week. It was important to finish on a high note for them,” Kaaya said.
Last week’s loss to North Carolina ended Miami’s chance at the ACC Coastal Division title, but the Canes came out in full force and played inspired, something they didn’t do at the end of the last two seasons. Miami recognized 18 players for Senior Day, although four of them – tight end Jake O’Donnell, defensive lineman Jelani Hamilton, defensive lineman Earl Moore and receiver D’Mauri Jones – are either juniors or redshirt juniors.
“It feels great coming out with a ‘W,’” senior receiver Herb Waters said. “It was a little emotional at the beginning and towards the end. Been four great years here.”
Only a lightning delay at the 4:07 mark of the third quarter could slow down the Canes – but the damage was already done. The Canes led by 24 after scoring 31 unanswered when the officials stopped the game. The Hurricanes also had lightning delays in the season opener against Bethune-Cookman and the second game against Florida Atlantic, both of which Miami won.
Georgia Tech (3-8, 1-7) opened the day perfectly, forcing a three-and-out on Miami’s first possession followed by a touchdown on offense. Redshirt freshman Clinton Lynch took a run 36 yards on Georgia Tech’s first play and redshirt senior Broderick Snoddy put the Yellow Jackets up 7-0 on a five-yard rush.
“I think it was great that they scored the first touchdown. It woke us up,” said redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad. “When we came to the sideline, we all stuck together. It motivated us to not let that happen again.”
Kaaya led Miami (7-4, 4-3) back with his first of several terrific drives against the Yellow Jackets. Kaaya converted two third downs on the possession, the second a 33-yard completion to redshirt freshman tight end David Njoku at the Georgia Tech 25. Senior receiver Herb Waters took a screen pass 23 yards down to the 2-yard line, where sophomore running back Joe Yearby took over. Yearby bulldozed over a defender for his eighth touchdown of the season.
Miami’s defense flipped the momentum of the game early in the second quarter. Sophomore linebacker Juwon Young forced a fumble that was recovered by Carter inside Miami’s 5-yard line to end a 12-play, 56-yard drive by the Yellow Jackets. Kaaya hit a wide open Stacy Coley down the left sideline two plays later, and the junior receiver set the Canes up at their own 45.
Kaaya followed that up with a perfect strike over the middle to Waters for 46 yards to the 4-yard line. Walton finished off the six-play, 97-yard drive with his seventh rushing touchdown of the season to put Miami ahead 14-7.
The defense pounced on the Yellow Jackets on the next possession. Senior defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu stripped a Yellow Jacket at the Georgia Tech 46, recovered the loose ball and was about to score when redshirt sophomore Ricky Jeune again stripped the ball free at the 1-yard line. Fortunately for the Canes, Grace fell on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
Sophomore Michael Badgley put the Canes up 24-7 at halftime with a career-long 57-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter. The 57-yarder tied a school record set by Danny Miller in 1981.
The always confident Badgley went up to the coaches before the kick and told them, “’Give me a chance. I got this.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
Miami outgained Georgia Tech 223 to 173 in total yards at the half. Georgia Tech rushed for 165 yards on 31 carries but only completed one pass on three attempts for eight yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback Matthew Jordan replaced starter redshirt senior Justin Thomas after the first drive. Thomas left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
The defense picked up right where it left off in the second half, forcing two consecutive turnovers on Georgia Tech’s first two possessions. Carter intercepted Jordan at Miami’ 8-yard line, but the Canes ultimately punted and Georgia Tech took over at the 20. Elder then picked off the Yellow Jackets on a flea-flicker pass by freshman receiver Brad Stewart at the Georgia Tech 41.
Walton decided to simply beat Georgia Tech by himself on the ensuing possession. The first-year running back carried the ball three times and then took a short pass 25 yards to the end zone on a four-play, 41-yard touchdown drive.
Interim Head Coach Larry Scott said Walton doesn’t even know his own ceiling. “He does a good job preparing. He’s got a maturity level about him,” Scott said of Walton. “When the pressure’s on, he seems to cool. He has something special.”
Georgia Tech turned the ball over on downs inside Miami territory on the next possession, followed by the 30-minute lightning warning at the 4:07 mark that delayed play until 3:15 p.m.
Continued rainfall combined with a soaked field led to some sloppy play by both teams. The Yellow Jackets found some success early in the fourth, going 68 yards in six plays to cut Miami’s lead to 31-14 with 10:05 remaining. Jordan capped off the drive with a three-yard rush up the middle for Georgia Tech’s second touchdown on the ground.
Miami quickly regained a 24-point lead on the ensuing possession. After a 46-yard pass by Kaaya to sophomore tight end Christopher Herndon set Miami up at the one, Walton punched it in for his third touchdown of the day. Kaaya finished the game with 300 yards and one touchdown on 16-of-25 passing.
Georgia Tech tacked on a score with 1:09 remaining on a 3-yard rush by Lynch to make it 38-21.
Miami outgained Georgia Tech 386 to 373 and forced four turnovers without giving the ball away. The Yellow Jackets racked up 314 yards on the ground to just 59 yards through the air.
The Canes finish off their regular season against Pitt at 12 p.m. on Friday in Pittsburgh.