In just two seasons, Mark Richt is very close to doing something that the two coaches that preceded him could not – win the Coastal.
Miami answered the pundits that doubted their prowess, putting on a solid performance against a top 15 team – as the No. 10 Canes got three total touchdowns from quarterback Malik Rosier and four turnovers from its defense to power a 28-10 win over visiting No. 13 Virginia Tech Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Hurricanes (8-0, 6-0 ACC) cemented their spot atop the Coastal division of the ACC thanks to 13-yard fourth-quarter touchdown scramble by Rosier, putting UM ahead 28-10 with 14:34 left to play.
Miami, which will host ESPN’s College Game Day pregame show before it takes on No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1) next Saturday, was able to grind out the clock the rest of the way – including a punctuating interception by Sheldrick Redwine – and sent the near capacity crowd of 63,932 fans home happy.
With their primetime victory along with a loss by Georgia Tech early Saturday, Miami has a full two-game lead and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker on both the Hokies (7-2, 3-2) and the Yellow Jackets (4-4, 3-3). Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, Miami has not won the Coastal division outright and has never played in the conference’s stand-alone championship game.
UM can officially clinch the Coastal next week if Virginia (6-3, 3-2) loses at Louisville or in two weeks when the Canes take on the Cavaliers head-to-head.
UM head coach Mark Richt said his team won the game because of the way it played in the trenches.
“I haven’t looked at all the stats yet, but I’ve seen the stat that means the most – and that’s a victory,” Richt began.
“I think it started with our performance on the offensive and defensive line…it started up front and we won the battle on both sides. There was a lot more intensity tonight…and it should be that way. We got challenged by what we saw on film from Virginia Tech and we knew that if we didn’t play physical up front, it would be over. If we didn’t protect, it would be over.”
“It takes a lot of work to get into a game like this and then to win it is spectacular. I thought everybody played [well] tonight…I hated the turnovers we had, but I like the ones we had on defense – for sure.” Richt said. “It was the best game of the year against a quality opponent.”
A lot of credit should go to Miami’s defense.
The Canes defensive unit looked like every bit of the vaunted unit it was hailed as before the start of the season. Miami held the Hokies to just 299 total yards of offense – down from the 446 they had averaged this season – to go along with the forced turnovers.
Redwine, junior safety Jaquan Johnson, freshman defensive lineman Jonathan Garvin and junior defensive tackle RJ McIntosh all got to wear the popular “Turnover Chain”.
McIntosh, who finished with four tackles Saturday, earned his time with the chain when he picked up a Jaquan Johnson-forced fumble right before halftime. That turnover proved to be huge since it stopped a Virginia Tech drive that appeared destined for points and allowed Miami to take a 14-3 lead into halftime.
The Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons alum McIntosh spoke – on multiple occasions – this season on his desire to wear the gaudy necklace was all smiles when asked about it after the game.
He’s wanted it bad all season pic.twitter.com/9nCx9DOQYF
— J.T. Wilcox (@JTWilcoxSports) November 5, 2017
Miami’s defense held Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson to 197 passing yards while intercepting him twice and sacking him four times. Travon McMillian led the Hokies with 52 rushing yards and receiver Cam Phillips finished with seven receptions for 101 yards – both game-highs. Virginia Tech’s lone score of the night was set up by a Rosier interception, having to travel just 17 yards before Jackson got a 1-yard score and pulled the Hokies to within 14-10 early in the third quarter.
The Hurricanes’ dominant defensive performance was sparked by the inspiring words of it starting safety. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz spoke of Johnson’s words to the team Friday night at the team hotel and Johnson shared it with the media postgame.
“I just said ‘what are we waiting for? Let’s go out there and dominate these people. Let’s go take their will’,” Johnson said.
Rosier, who wore an ice pack on his right shoulder after the game, did not have an aesthetically pleasing stat line – throwing three interceptions while completing just 10 of 21 passes for 193 yards. But he did rush for 84 yards and had a pair of touchdowns through the air – including a 43-yard scoring hook up with senior tight end Christopher Herndon that put the Canes up 21-10 midway through the third quarter.
Sophomore running back Travis Homer led Miami with 95 rushing yards on 14 carries. Homer gained a big chunk of his yards on 64-yard dash where he found a crease in the middle of the Hokies defense and put the Canes up 14-0 midway through the second.
Miami fans reveled in the team’s performance as time waned in the fourth quarter.
After three consecutive close, nail-biting games the Canes were subject to national scrutiny – questioning their validity as one of the top teams in college football. Miami, which is currently riding the country’s longest winning streak (13 games dating back to the 2016 season), was ranked No. 10 behind six one-loss teams in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings.
But with losses by Penn State and Ohio State this week, the Hurricanes could find themselves just outside the coveted “top four” but very much in control of its own destiny.
Sophomore linebacker Shaquille Quarterman echoed the sentiments of his teammate Michael Pinckney from two weeks ago – claiming that “nobody wants to see Miami win”.
— J.T. Wilcox (@JTWilcoxSports) November 5, 2017
“It’s Miami against the world,” Quarterman said.