Things haven’t been going well for the Miami Hurricanes the past few weeks. Having lost consecutive games to a pair of non-traditional ACC football powers amid a quarterback controversy and backlash about play-calling, UM needed things to go right at home Saturday night.
Instead, things went – possibly – as bad as they could go.
For the third straight week, Miami failed to put more than two touchdowns on the board, along with playing a frustrating game of quarterback musical chairs as it lost 20-12 to Duke in front of 62,754 disgruntled fans Saturday night.
The Hurricanes (5-4, 2-3 ACC) did have a chance to put together a potential game-tying drive in the final minutes of the game. Down eight, with 4:15 left on the clock, Miami began a drive from its own 13-yard line.
The drive was disjointed – with N’Kosi Perry taking a pair of sacks – but did get close enough for Miami to take a shot to the end zone. On the Duke 13-yard line, Perry found Lawrence Cager in the corner of the end zone but the touchdown was wiped away by an offensive pass interference penalty. Backed up to the Blue Devils’ 28, Perry tried one more desperation heave towards the end zone but it was knocked out of the air near the goal line – cementing UM’s first home loss to the Blue Devils since 1976.
UM head coach Mark Richt, who has been the target of much ire from fans regarding his play-calling among other things, called Saturday’s loss “heartbreaking”.
“It’s just heartbreaking to not be able to get the victory. We put a lot into it and didn’t get it done,” Richt said.
“It’s becoming too common to congratulate the opponent first, but I’ll do that. I’m asking our guys to be men of integrity and I’m going to try to do the same, at this point. Duke did a very good job. They deserved the right to go celebrate. I’m sure they’re doing a good job of that right now. I don’t have a lot of really good answers, right this minute.”
Richt didn’t do himself any favors in terms of answering the questions or quelling the concerns regarding his choice of plays Saturday. Given that Duke (6-3) had given up 484 rushing yards this past week in a 54-45 loss to Pittsburgh, it would seem that maybe the Hurricanes would be able to exploit some of those same weaknesses against the Blue Devils defense.
However, Miami didn’t come out looking as though it was committed to running the football – until a heavy rainstorm parked itself over Hard Rock Stadium and soaked the field. The sloshy first-half conditions forced Richt’s hand to keep the ball on the ground and it produced the Hurricanes’ only two scoring drives of the night.
On their first offensive drive of the second quarter, DeeJay Dallas took a handoff and splashed 83 yards down the field and slid into the end zone for a touchdown – cutting Duke’s lead to 7-6 after UM’s extra point attempt went array due to the torrential downpour.
The Hurricanes scored again six minutes later, going on a 6-play, 82-yard drive that was capped by a 6-yard plunge by junior running back Travis Homer. Miami’s two-point conversion try failed, but it had its first lead in a football game since its win over Florida State on October 6th – or nearly 143 minutes of game action.
While Richt didn’t abandon the run in the second half – the team had 22 total rushing attempts in the second half, as it did in the first half – he did call runs that yielded pedestrian results at best and called for running plays at seemingly inopportune times; like during the final drive of the game.
“We did move the ball some, and we had some big plays,” Richt said. “We didn’t move it on a consistent basis, for sure. We ran the ball for a couple of hundred yards in the first half in the downpour. It was a different field condition, obviously. It wasn’t ideal conditions to drop back and throw the football, but [Duke] did it pretty well. We had our moments…I can’t give you a good answer right now on that, because I’m sitting here trying to think what happened in practice that may have caused things not to go well, other than we just didn’t do a good enough job. Period.”
Still, Miami outgained Duke 411 to 290 in total yards (300 to 146 on the ground), but they were unable to come away with points.
The postgame buzzword was execution.
“It’s a lot of lack of execution right now,” Homer said. “We just need to focus and we just need to lock in. Because we’re expected to do certain things and we’re just not doing it right now.”
“I feel like we’re not executing when we have to,” Perry said. “I feel like sometimes the quarterback will mess up or the receiver…but for the most part we have to execute better as a group and stay together. We get it right during practice, I felt like we had an excellent week of practice this week, to be honest. I feel like the rain kind of got us off rhythm at first and it was hard to get back into it.”
Rain considered, it’s also hard for quarterbacks or an offense as a whole to get into a rhythm if there’s no consistency at quarterback.
Richt continued his quarterback carousel between Perry and redshirt senior Malik Rosier.
Rosier started the game for the Canes but was pulled after the first two series. He then inserted Perry for a handful of drives but elected to go back to Rosier through the third quarter, before pulling Rosier again during the fourth quarter and turning back to Perry.
“I knew I was going to get in, but I didn’t know how much I was going to play,” Perry admitted. “[Coach Richt] told us before the game to ‘stay ready, you never know when you’re going to get in’. So, I figured I was going to get in. I’m getting used to it now, to be honest. Just have to be ready. We always say we’re going to be ready, but I know that the performance I had tonight was unacceptable.”
Perry ended up completing just 5-of-16 passes for 35 yards while Rosier was 8-for-12 with 76 yards.
Switching quarterbacks on such a whim is detrimental to an offense though.
“I’m not sure how it affects the team, but I feel like Malik and I both prepare like we’re going to start. We just have to get ready for whoever our opponent is and keep the team together,” Perry said.
Homer finished with a game-high 133 rushing yards on 18 carries to go along with his second-quarter score. Sophomore DeeJay Dallas also eclipsed the 100-yard mark, totaling 124 yards on 12 attempts, but he had a tough second half – fumbling the ball twice.
One of Dallas’ fumbles set up Duke the field position to knock in a 27-yard field goal with just under 10 minutes in the third quarter and cut UM’s lead to 12-10. Then the Hurricanes had a field goal, which would’ve extended Miami’s lead to five, blocked – which the Blue Devils turned into 9-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that they capped with a 2-yard jump pass to Daniel Helm to give them a 17-12 lead.
Duke, which gathered near midfield at the end of the third quarter and blatantly taunted the Hurricanes, tacked on another field goal with just over nine minutes to play in the game – taking the final 20-12 lead.
The reality remains, Miami has lost three games in a row to teams that it was favored to beat and has just about lost all hope of winning the ACC Coastal Division and playing in the ACC Championship game.
“It hurts, especially for the seniors,” Perry said. “We wanted to do it big for the seniors. But we’re going to fight it to the end…we just have to play with pride now.”