Then again, folks in the Tobacco Road region would’ve been equally as baffled if you’d told them back in the day that Miami Hurricanes basketball would one day smack around the Blue Devils and Tar Heels en route to a conference title. Times have a-changed, with parity, money and quality coaches making a difference all around.
Miami got a much-needed road win at Duke on Friday night—a convincing 31-6 drubbing that felt more like 13 years ago, than 2013—the lone time the Blue Devils took out the Canes in college football’s modern era.
GETTING ‘THE U’ BACK TO GOOD
Durham has given The U fits since Miami joined the ACC in 2004—the Canes largest margin of victory before Friday night’s showdown; 18 points in 2008. Since then a few close calls, a shootout and that loss four years back, where a veteran Blue Devils squad turned a one-point third quarter lead into a humbling 48-30 smackdown, en route to a Coastal Division crown.
Vegas had Miami taking this year’s contest by a touchdown, while ESPN’s quirky computers and algorithms gave Duke a 55% chance of winning. Factor in the revenge element from the eight-lateral comeback two years prior and there was no ignoring the Canes were walking into a spirited affair.
The Blue Devils hit the ground running this season, a 4-0 start with impressive wins over Northwestern (41-17), Baylor (34-20) and arch-rival North Carolina (27-17) over the past three weeks. Conversely, the two-win Canes were still out of sorts and routine-less courtesy of Irma’s impact and a 21-day layoff—brutally obvious in the first half against Toledo six days prior; the Canes trailing the Rockets, 16-10 after two before blowing it out the second half, 52-30.
Toss in a trek to Tallahassee on the horizon and this had all the makings of a trap game—one that a less disciplined, unfocused, poorly coached squad could’ve (and has) easily shit away. Instead, Miami treated the trek to Durham like the business trip and stepping stone it was in the early stages of what has all the makings of a defining comeback season.
Duke moved the ball on the opening drive, setting the stage for a potential offensive battle. Quarterback Daniel Jones relied on his arm and legs to move it around, while veteran running back Shaun Wilson gashed the Canes’ defense for a few hearty runs. Inside the red zone, Jones galloped for six yards on a 3rd-and-7, setting up a statement-making 4th-and-1. The Duke offense stayed on the field—momentarily—before linebacker Michael Pinckney shot out of a cannon and took Jones down for an 11-yard loss.
Statement made. Miami came to play.
Mark Walton was leaned on immediately for back-to-back runs, before Malik Rosier dumped one off to the junior running back for a 39-yard gain. Walton’s next carry resulted in a tw0-yard loss, but the damage had been done; the Blue Devils’ defense baited as Rosier hit Braxton Berrios in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown; hanging in the pocket and getting clobbered.
Sitting on a 7-0 lead halfway through the first quarter itself is less impressive than the path taken to get there—a path only noticeable by those who have carefully followed the Canes’ underachieving journey this past decade.
Losses don’t just “happen”. Looking at those Sunday morning box scores over the past few years, wondering how Miami wound up on the wrong end of things—it’s all the little things consistently going the wrong way.
Take that loss in Durham four years back. Miami drives inside the Duke red zone on the game’s opening drive, but settles for a field goal after a 3rd-and-5 pass falls incomplete. After a solid defensive stop, the Canes return a punt and go up, 10-0—short-lived as the Blue Devils drive 75 yards and cut it to three.
Miami answers, pushing the lead to 17-7, holds on defense and is driving again—a chance to blow things up early in the second quarter, before an interception midfield that Duke turned into seven a few plays later. 24-7 becomes 17-14 in a flash and the Canes can only muster up three more over the next two possessions.
A game ripe for the taking early in the second quarter is instead a 21-20 deficit at halftime and the the momentum shift is on.
PROPER LEADERSHIP CHANGING GAME FOR CANES
One can only imagine the intermission speech from then-head coach Al Golden and staff—but a safe bet it wasn’t the confident approach current defensive coordinator Manny Diaz took against Toledo last week; scrawling, “We are going to win this game” on a locker room grease board.
Where the Hurricanes outscored the Rockets, 36-16 in the second half a week ago—Miami was outscored by Duke, 27-17 three years back—including a 17-0 fourth quarter shutout. It was an all-too-familiar blueprint for the Hurricanes this past decade, but one that Mark Richt and staff have put out to pasture as year two gets underway.
None of that is to imply that Miami has everything solved. A scoreless third quarter featured a few offensive drives that stalled, a freshman punt that lost a yard and another head-scratching decision from Rosier that resulted in an ugly interception—but how the Canes responded from there; again, proof things are on the right track.
Rosier made up for his earlier blunder, finding Ahmmon Richards, who scampered for a 49-yard score. A few possessions later, the Miami defense recovered a fumble and on the first play from scrimmage, Travis Homer busted through the line—untouched—for a 40-yard score and exclamation point on an effective evening.
Seemingly lost in the shuffle of power rankings and all the are-the-Canes-back talk; the fact that the process is working. Under Golden, there was too much talk and no action, while with Richt, little chatter and business as usual. Miami did what it was supposed to at Duke. No fanfare, defending of stats or back-slapping. Get in, get out, do the job and move on.
Undefeated was the goal going into Florida State week—albeit this wasn’t the path. Miami expected to take on Bethune-Cookman and travel to Arkansas State before facing the Seminoles on September 16th. Irma had different plans, resulting in a cancellation, a postponement, a three-week layoff and practice disruption.
Thankfully for the Canes, Toledo helped ease normalcy back in, while Duke provided that initial road trip before heading to Tallahassee. Toss in the extra rest-up day from a Friday night game and things have gotten back to normal with a demoralized arch-rival on the horizon.
That doesn’t mean a two-loss Florida State squad won’t be ready—but this marks the first time Miami truly has those guys somewhat on the ropes in about a decade.
Get back to work this week, follow the blueprint, take this to Doak Campbell, make a statement and emerge victorious. It’s there for the taking, so take it.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter @ItsAUThingBLOG or @ChristianRBello.