The Miami Hurricanes took down the Virginia Tech Hokies, 30-20 last Saturday at Sun Life Stadium and in the end, the home team bore a closer resemblance to the visitor. Not always pretty at times—yet effective, relying on defensive turnovers when it counted and inevitably finding a way to prevail, even when things were close at the half.
Brad Kaaya was an effective 19-of-30 for 296 yards and two touchdowns, while again delivering another turnover-free performance and spreading the ball around to a handful of receivers. Herb Waters had the most yards—89 on three receptions—while Stacy Coley and Rashawn Scott had four catches apiece; two of Scott’s going for scores.
Joe Yearby rushed for 60 yards on 19 carries, while pulling in three receptions for 51 yards. His running back co-hort Mark Walton carried 12 times for 37 yards.
Michael Badgley was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts; his longest going for 49 yards, while cornerback Artie Burns pulled down two interceptions. Juwon Young—replacing the injured Raphael Kirby—also pulled down a pick, as the Hokies turned it over four times with the Canes mistake-free.
Miami out-gained Virginia Tech 395 yards to 361, but lost the time-of-possession battle 33:08 to 26:52. Third-down conversions went Miami’s way, with the Canes an effective 7-of-16, while Virginia Tech was 3-of-10.
CAPITALIZING ON EARLY MISTAKES SET THE TONE
Miami got on the board early after stalling out on the opening drive and capitalizing on a Virginia Tech turnover, leading to a three-yard punch-in from Yearby. The teams traded first quarter field goals before Brenden Motley found Travon McMillan for a nine-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, 10-10.
The Canes again settled for three midway through the second quarter after a 1st-and-Goal opportunity from the two-yard line moved backwards, leaving Badgley to drill the 49-yarder. The Hokies tied things up in the final minute of the first half, but some heads-up play from Miami resulted in a seven-play, 79-yard, 54-second scoring drive.
Content to run out the clock and facing a 3rd-and-20, the Hokies jumped off-sides and Kaaya made the most of his free play, switching to a deep pass. “If they jump offsides, it’s an automatic go-round,” Kaaya explained in his post-game presser.
Kaaya found Waters for a 45-yard gain and moments later hit Scott for a seven-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with :04 left in the half, swinging momentum Miami’s way for what was mostly an uneventful third quarter, outside of 21-yard Badgley field goal in the waning moments.
Miami’s pre-halftime, game-changing score almost never came to be. Receiving the kickoff with under a minute remaining, the Canes looked content to run out the clock.
HEADS-UP QUARTERBACK PLAY GIVES UM A LEG UP
Trevor Darling was dinged with yet another false start on first down and after back-to-back runs by Walton, Miami faced a 3rd-and-9 when Standish Dobard was hit with an unsportsmanlike call. The Hokies false start gave the Canes the free play—Miami having new life and making the most of it.
An eight-yard pass to Coley set up a 2nd-and-2, followed the Hokies self-imploding with a roughing-the-passer penalty. After an incomplete pass to Yearby, Kaaya hit Scott for a 14-yard gain—the two plays only shaving 13 seconds off the clock. Miami wisely called a time out, drew up a play and with :08 remaining, Kaaya found Scott in the back of the end zone for seven.
The drive in a sense was a microcosm of the Canes’ season thus far; boneheaded mistakes, followed by heads-up football, a few big plays and capitalizing on an opponent’s blunders.
Virginia Tech again made it a three-point game in the middle of the fourth when injured starter Michael Brewer—in for the struggling Motley—hit Isaiah Ford for a 33-yard touchdown with 7:20 remaining, pulling the Hokies to within three.
Kaaya responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive—capped off with a two-yard strike to Scott to push Miami’s lead to 10 points with 2:44 remaining and Burns shut the door with his second interception of the day as the Canes won their fourth game of the season and went to 1-1 in conference play.
While a win over long-time rival Virginia Tech always feels good, the Hokies dropped to 3-4 with the loss and are all but eliminated from Coastal Division play in mid-October.
THESE AREN’T YOUR BIG BROTHER’S HOKIES
Miami’s one-time Big East rival also jumped to the ACC—winning the Coastal six times and the conference, four—before backsliding the past half decade, putting once-revered head coach Frank Beamer in a bit of a pinch, having now lost 21 of his past 46 games.
Miami had its statement-game shot weeks back against Florida State while the showdown with Virginia Tech was must-win, it’s simply another rung in the ladder that is the 2015 season. Lose, and the heat would be unbearable for head coach Al Golden.
Win, and the Canes’ consolation prize is living to see another day—which brings season-defining, back-to-back games again Clemson and at Duke.
The undefeated, sixth-ranked Tigers roll into Sun Life Stadium for a noon showdown this coming Saturday—setting up that oh-so-common narrative in the Golden era; with talk about Coastal Division crowns, season-defining wins and the type of an upset that would be a first in the career of the Canes’ fifth-year leader.
Golden entered this season 9-36 lifetime against teams who wound up finishing the season with five-or-less losses. Looking at the foes Miami has already faced in 2015, the wins came against patsies or disappointing squads that won’t soon better those stats; Bethune-Cookman, Florida Atlantic, Nebraska and Virginia Tech—while losses came at the hands of Cincinnati and Florida State.
TIGERS BEATABLE IF CANES PLAY TO PERFECTION
Clemson rolled up a 6-0 record, by way of five home games, a few patsies and one true challenge—having school Wofford and Appalachian State early in the year, before escaping Louisville, 20-17 in their lone road trip this far. A week later, a 24-22 win over Notre Dame, followed by double-digit beat-downs of Georgia Tech and Boston College. Over the next three games, road trips to Miami and North Carolina State before hosting Florida State early November.
Days prior to the Canes’ meeting with the Tigers, Miami faithful appears to be in wait-and-see mode. Both the process-trusters and anti-Golden crowd are taking the Virginia Tech win in stride, seemingly wanting and expecting different results as game seven approaches.
While one game rarely defines a season, much like the road trip to Tallahassee early-October, this meeting with Clemson will arguably define Golden’s fate—fair, or not. A win keeps Miami in the running for a Coastal crown—and gives Golden that long-awaited signature win—while a loss all but eliminated the Canes from a division title; two games down, with Duke and Pittsburgh having easier paths to Charlotte and Miami still facing both, as well as Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina.
A losing culture over the past decade has put the Canes in a position where it’s difficult to appreciate the week-to-week—drinking in a win, or shaking off a loss. The stakes are infinitely raised until things level off and this program is playing consistent football; showing progress and taking those steps forward that prove this rebuild is a living and breathing entity, opposed to the one step forward, two steps back dynamic that’s gone on for too long.
For those looking for something to cling to or a takeaway from the win over Virginia Tech; some things worth appreciating and acknowledging:
The lack of mistakes, as well as a heads up play that led to a 3rd-and-20 conversion and late second quarter touchdown, are just the type of things the good ones do. The Canes should get two more years out of the Southern California signal caller and those could be pivotal for the program as it looks to achieve that next-level status
For anyone still unsure; imagine how a Ken Dorsey would look with this 2015 team, versus how Kaaya would fare with that 2001 national championship squad and all the surrounding talent on both sides of the ball.
When thinking of receivers like Leonard Hankerson or Tommy Streeter going next-level their final years, it’s refreshing to see Scott, Waters and Coley following suit this season. Kaaya has some legitimate threats that all seem to shine at the right time and if that continues down the stretch, the Canes’ offense should continue improving.
While it’s easy to lament the ones who got away—Florida State running back Dalvin Cook immediately comes to mind—the tandem of Yearby and Walton is doing a solid job; especially after losing Gus Edwards in the preseason. The Canes are a team without a bigger-bodied back, but continue grinding and getting the most out of their dynamic duo.
Should the offensive line jell down the stretch—while younger pass-catchers like David Njoku, Chris Herndon and Lawrence Cager mature—Miami should be a more consistent offensive unit; winning those time-of-possession battles, while improving on third down and in the red zone.
Defensively the Canes still have a long way to go, but Burns is leading the secondary and seeing a Young employ that next-man-in- mentality for Kirby, getting a few stops and hauling in a pick—at minimum, it shows improvement.
Regarding Kirby, one to keep in Canes’ fans thoughts or prayers as that knee injury looked brutal and early reports don’t sound promising in the short- or long-term.
Miami’s defensive scheme still doesn’t seem like the most prudent or aggressive way to utilize South Florida talent, but seeing kids making some plays and getting theirs—it’s better than all the missed open-field tackles, blown assignments and disastrous “freelancing” that often seems to be taking place with the Canes.
Giving up 201 passing yards, 361 total yards and letting a sub-par team like Virginia Tech make it a three-point game late, isn’t a good thing—but closing late and making those one or two extra plays that have seemed to allude this team over the past few seasons; that in itself is refreshing as it means kids are succeeding despite circumstances.
4-2 should be 5-1 and could be 6-0 if this staff and a better game plan or these kids made a few more plays late, but for the Canes’ sake they’re still at the point of the season where the ultimate goal is still intact. While the anti-Golden camp doesn’t want to hear that noise—understandably—things are still on course for nature to take its course.
Golden set his Coastal-or-bust type goal at the beginning of the year and as long as Miami is still mathematically in the hunt for a division crown, tongues must be bitten and the process folks are sick of hearing about will continue being ridden out.
The margin for error is beyond minimal and will either be reached, or the Canes will again fall short of bigger things. Get to Charlotte for a rematch against Florida State or Clemson and Golden will have delivered. Fail, and there’s truly nowhere for him to hide.
While all of those bigger questions loom, they should truly take a backseat this week as Miami is again on ABC—in a nationally televised showdown—against a Clemson team that always finds a way to choke away a big one; especially on the road.
Sunday will get here soon enough and a win or loss can be dissected at that point. Until then, energy is better used rooting for these kids to put in the work all week and to deliver again to the best of their abilities. Where it goes from there, it goes.