How nice it was to see Miami Hurricanes football again.
It was a frustrating few weeks for Miami, but they are back and better than ever this season after a 48-0 win at Duke. The margin of victory was the largest for the Canes in a conference game since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. UM allowed no points in a league matchup for the first time since 2001, when they shut out Big East Conference foe Syracuse en route to a national title.
“It’s hard to go somewhere on the road and shut somebody out,” said head coach Manny Diaz.
The win comes after COVID-19 continues to go full circle within the program.
The Hurricanes (8-1, 7-1 ACC) were “on the brink” of not being able to play as early as Nov. 14 at Virginia Tech. It took just two more days for COVID to further catch up to the team that had long held the virus at bay, and UM was forced to reschedule games against Wake Forest and North Carolina.
They looked to be missing a third consecutive matchup when the coronavirus hit Wake Forest, disrupting the contest that had already been postponed once.
UM found out that they received a new opponent last Sunday—less than a week in advance of the contest—when they replaced Florida State on Duke’s schedule.
After three games decided by less than one possession, the Canes put it all together Saturday and earned a blowout win for the first time since September. There have been few givens in 2020, but Diaz’s team ensured it was certain that they returned home to Coral Gables with a suspense-free victory.
“It’s hard being away from something you love so much,” said center Corey Gaynor. “But when we got back together, I don’t think we missed a beat, and I think we grew as a team, so it’s a great night and this is a great feeling.”
Depth tested, once again
Before Miami had to rearrange the back end of their schedule due to the effects of the virus on its roster, the team was far from having complete depth. In the two games prior to the hiatus, UM had more than 10 players listed as unavailable before kickoff. While the break in action allowed Diaz’s team to regroup and get some depth back, the team didn’t return Saturday night in its entirety.
The defense came in especially thin, missing multiple major contributors including cornerback Al Blades Jr., linebackers Sam Brooks and Zach McCloud, and defensive tackles Jon Ford and Jared Harrison-Hunte. In all, 15 players were listed as inactive, a season-high.
“[We] didn’t really get back as an entire football team—I mean, not even an entire football team, but anything resembling a football team—until this past Monday,” said Diaz, although he clarified that this game was not in jeopardy of being called off at any point.
Early rust shaken off
The Canes came into the contest with a de facto double bye, having not played a game in three weeks.
While a week of rest may naturally be welcomed by many players this deep into a season, the recent extended break could have also disrupted the season’s momentum.
This was apparent on offense early. Running back Jaylan Knighton lost a fumble on the second play from scrimmage, and even on the second possession, UM still wasn’t yet in rhythm and had to punt.
But once the Hurricanes began to gel, they took control of the game quickly.
UM drove 88 yards on their third drive of the evening and got into the end zone thanks to a 24-yard pass from D’Eriq King to Brevin Jordan. This momentum carried over to the rest of the half, which saw a 34-yard rushing score by Cam’Ron Harris and King later rush into the end zone from 11 yards out. That set up a 21-0 halftime advantage that grew interminably in the second half. The Canes outgained Duke 524-177, and backup quarterbacks N’Kosi Perry and Peyton Matocha got action in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t go into the game pessimistic that we couldn’t do something like this, but to see the players do it [was great]. It reminds me of what they’ve done all year. Every time it’s been sort of the darkest time, whether that was the uncertainty of the summer, some of these games where we’ve been down where it’s gotten kind of dicey—it was kind of dicey the last couple weeks—these guys have stepped up and they’ve stepped up in a big way,” said Diaz.
King had 248 yards passing while completing 16 of his 24 passes. He threw for three scores and had an additional touchdown on the ground. Harris led Miami in rushing yards with 96 to go along with two trips to the end zone. Don Chaney also added 62 yards on the ground.
Mike Harley caught two passes for 105 yards, Chaney added 81 yards on four receptions, and Jordan had 75 receiving yards and a touchdown. Harris, Dee Wiggins, Xavier Restrepo and Will Mallory also had catches Saturday night.
“Everybody was excited to come out there and play,” said King. “Just having three weeks off, sometimes you could take playing football for granted. I know getting back in the building, it was a different kind of energy.”
Defense aggressive, early and often
The Hurricanes defense did not to miss a beat Saturday night in Durham, in spite of missing five key players.
They imposed their will early and often. It was a classic outing by a Diaz-led defense. Miami’s defense totaled 13 tackles for loss and three sacks. The tone was set from the first snaps, when Miami forced the Blue Devils back four yards after the initial giveaway gave Duke good field position in UM territory.
The Blue Devils had just seven rushing yards in the first half. And the turnover chain came out five times all night.
Safety Bubba Bolden had a team-high nine total tackles, five of them solo. Defensive end Jaelan Phillips made a team-high three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. And fellow defensive end Quincy Roche added six tackles, including two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“It was a great performance,” said Diaz. “Obviously, we drill the heck out of tackling and take a lot of pride in it. I was very excited with all of our tackling.”
It was a top-notch display of vintage, downhill football that Miami has long identified itself with.
“We came out playing Miami defense,” said linebacker Corey Flagg. “There’s a standard and we finally held it.”
The Hurricanes are out of contention for a spot in the ACC Championship, with Clemson winning at Virginia Tech while Miami was playing. There may not be a pathway anymore for UM to make the conference title game by finishing in the league’s top two, but the Canes can still conclude the regular season strong.
They’ll be tested next week at home as they return to Hard Rock Stadium to take on the No. 17 North Carolina Tar Heels. Against a UNC side averaging more than 40 points per game, UM will look to take a giant next step toward winning 10 games in a year for just the second time since 2003.