It’s finally starting to come together. Everything Al Golden has preached for months now, the process is underway and traction is being gained. When you look back at Golden’s teary-eyed presser after the loss to Virginia Tech weeks back, it all makes sense now. He preached that afternoon in Blacksburg that his kids were close. They were starting to get it.
Defensive woes aside, Miami is literally three plays from undefeated but the reality is that the Canes were 2-3 two games ago and could’ve easily folded the tent. Recent UM teams have mailed it in under lesser conditions, but since that heartbreaker in Blacksburg, Miami is 2-0 and has done it in impressive fashion.
The offense stole the show at North Carolina last weekend but this Saturday at Sun Life is was all about the defense as Miami shut down Georgia Tech and its gimmicky triple-option, 24-7.
The Yellow Jackets were held to 134 total rushing yards and 77 through the air. The 211-yard output was well below the 517-yard average over the previous seven games and marked the third time in thirty-five games that GT was held to less than 200 yards on the ground. Miami’s defense was twice responsible for that shut down.
The Canes got out the gate quick, on the board halfway through the first quarter with a Mike James touchdown, but “the moment” came when Coach Golden backed his offense on a 4th-and-3 from the 39.
After failing to score on its opening drive, Miami’s defense picked off Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington on his first pass from scrimmage. JoJo Nicolas hauled in the overthrown ball and set Miami up from the GT forty-six. Twelve plays later the Canes punched it in, but the signature moment was Jacory Harris finding freshman receiver Philip Dorsett for thirteen yards on fourth down.
Golden called a timeout and not only let his kids know that they were going for it; he let it be known that they were going to convert and eventually score. A few plays later the coach better resembled a prophet. 7-0, Miami and on the board first.
Another Georgia Tech mishap led to another Miami score when Zack Laskey dropped back to receive a punt on the nine-yard line, misplayed it, failed to secure and wound up under Nicolas in the end zone for a 14-0 Hurricanes lead, marking the third straight game the Canes got up on the Yellow Jackets early and never looked back.
Tech hung tough, getting a late second quarter score after a 20-play, 92-yard drive, pulling to within seven a minute before halftime, but Miami again came roaring back, seizing momentum.
Travis Benjamin ran the ensuing kickoff back 48 yards and on first down Harris hit Tommy Streeter for a 32-yard pick up. Two plays later, Miller bolted through a monstrous hole for a fourteen-yard touchdown and the Canes were up 21-7 with twenty-five seconds remaining.
After a scoreless third quarter, Jake Wieclaw connected on a 39-yard field goal, pushing the lead to 24-7 and the Canes cruised to an impressive victory.
Harris, battling the flu all week, wasn’t the quarterback Miami had seen the past few weeks – but in the same breath, he managed the game and did enough for the Canes to win, protecting the ball and converting when necessary. There was one interception on the day, but the blame lays on fullback John Calhoun who should’ve reeled in the reception.
As solid as Miami looked on the field, the true highlight might’ve been an animated Golden on the sideline. The first-year head coach displayed an energy that comes from a confident man beaming over the fact that his players are not only hearing the message, but are gaining traction.
As a teacher, you want nothing more than your pupils to hear and apply your words and for Golden, a head coach who’s endured way-too-much these past few months, he’s displaying the satisfaction of an accomplished man. Every game on Miami’s schedule remains winnable, though the devil remains in the details.
At 4-3 and with a short week, the focus is on Virginia and getting to 3-2 in conference play. It’s also on getting healthy.
Offensive lineman Jonathan Feliciano left the game after Miller’s touchdown run, having hurt and ankle in the celebration melee while defensive back Brandon McGee left a few plays earlier after a collision with receiver Embry Peeples.
Defensive end Marcus Robinson, linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive tackle Adewale Ojomo also left with injuries, with Robinson and Ojomo returning while Perryman remained sidelined.
For a banged up defense looking for a quality win this week against a squad that handed Georgia Tech it’s first loss of the season, Miami needs to heal quickly.
Regardless, a quality win in game seven and proof that Golden’s squad continues to improve weekly – which is all you can ask for from a first-year head coach. – C.B.