What started as a dominating performance from the Miami Hurricanes ended as a nail-biting finish against Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Georgia Tech.
“It was quite an extraordinary game. I am just proud of our team for finding a way to win a game that, when you look at the things that occurred – to allow Georgia Tech to stay close, turnovers of course and scoring nine points on defensive scores – it was everything where we could say it was a day that was not our day,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz said. “I’m just as proud of this team as anything else because we didn’t give in to that. The guys found a way to win.”
The Hurricanes (5-4, 3-2 ACC) quickly went up 14-0 midway through the first quarter. On their first drive, the offense marched 93 yards in 11 plays. Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke found senior wide receiver Mike Harley in the back left corner of the end zone to cap off the drive.
The defense forced a three and out and the offense swiftly took a 14-0 lead after a 35-yard touchdown pass to transfer redshirt junior wide receiver Charleston Rambo.
After allowing a 71-yard touchdown run, the Canes found themselves up 14-7 with a chance to extend the lead. But Rambo fumbled on the subsequent drive, giving Georgia Tech the ball back.
However, freshman safety Avantae Williams, in just his second game this season after serving a suspension for the first half of the season, made an acrobatic, leaping interception, the first of his career, to give the Canes the ball back.
The offense then fumbled twice more before heading into halftime down 21-17.
“With those turnovers on offense, the game shouldn’t have even been close…We killed ourselves with those three turnovers. Without those we could’ve had a lot more points. We have to go practice and fix that,” Van Dyke said. “As an offense, we knew we were driving the ball on them, we knew we were playing well. But despite those turnovers we played a great game on offense. We were really confident.”
Georgia Tech (3-6, 2-5 ACC) and Miami exchanged touchdowns to start the second half, maintaining a four-point Georgia Tech lead at 28-24.
What happened on Miami’s second possession of the half was a crucial issue on three separate possessions in the third and fourth quarters. Down by four at its own 45-yard line, the Canes decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee chose to call a draw play out of the shotgun, which yielded zero yards and a turnover on downs.
After a defensive stand and a missed Georgia Tech field goal, freshman kicker Andy Borregales bounced back and made a 31-yard field goal to cut the deficit to one.
The defense gave the ball back to the offense down by one. Freshman running back Jaylan “Rooster” Knighton broke into the endzone to take a three-point lead. On the 2-point conversion attempt, Van Dyke’s pass was intercepted and returned 100 yards for a Georgia Tech two-point score. What could have been a seven-point Miami lead turned into three.
After another Georgia Tech three and out, Miami drove into Yellow Jacket territory. The Hurricanes faced a fourth-and-1 at the Georgia Tech 28-yard line and elected to go for it rather than attempt a 45-yard field goal. For the second time in the half, Lashlee called a draw out of the shotgun and Knighton was stopped short of the line to gain.
The Yellow Jackets’ next drive stalled, and they gave Miami the ball back with a chance to end the game. On third-and-1, one yard from victory, the Hurricanes ran their third draw out of the shotgun. As they did on the first two, they failed to convert this one as well.
“You think you can get a yard. We were obviously disappointed to not be able to do that three times,” Diaz said. “That will be a big point of emphasis this week in practice to make sure that we have a plan to get a yard when a yard is required.”
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over on downs and Miami was able to end the game in victory formation.
Although the Canes played a sloppy game, they were able to do enough to get the victory and grab their third straight ACC win.
The Canes will face long-time rival Florida State next Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.