Written by Erik Slaby
Durham, NC – On a cool evening here at Wallace Wade Stadium and in the first game of Atlantic Coast Conference play for the University of Miami Hurricanes, the 14th ranked Hurricanes defeated the Duke University Blue Devils by a score of 31-6. This win now gives Miami a 3-0 record on the season and moves them to 1-0 in conference play. This game was Duke’s first loss of the season, moving them to 4-1 and 1-1 in conference play. Miami head coach Mark Richt spoke after the game about the win.
“I’m very excited about the victory,” Richt said. “You go on the road in the league against an undefeated team, first league game, to get a victory, no matter how it comes we’re grateful.”
In the first half, it seemed like this game would be an offensive shootout as both teams were able to move the ball up and down the field with ease. But in the second half, it became more of a defensive battle. There were hints of that happening in the first half.
In the first half, the main difference between the two teams was that Miami was able to score touchdowns, while Duke was forced to settle for field goals. Even though both teams were able to move the ball well offensively, each defense managed to make some key stops. The Miami defense set the tone early on when Duke went for it on 4th and 1, from the Miami 13 yard line. Miami linebacker Michael Pinckney burst his way through the offensive line for an 11 yard sack of Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, forcing a turnover on downs but more importantly, not allowing Duke to come away with points. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe spoke after the game about the decision to for it on fourth down, and whether scoring on that drive could have changed the game.
“That’s football” said Cutcliffe. “You think about kicking the field goal right there, just to finish with points. But everything in my book says to go for it. I know how talented they are, and I knew they would create some measure of points. 31 points is misleading to the people who are going to read about this. It’s one of those situations – danged if you do and danged if you don’t.”
On the very next offensive series for Miami, they scored on a 27 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Malik Rosier to wide receiver Braxton Berrios. With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Miami took the lead and never relinquished it. While that stop by Pinckney set the tone for the defense, it was not the only play made by him.
With 6:48 left to play in the first half, Duke had just forced Miami to go three-and-out and punt the ball and the momentum seemed to shift towards Duke. Miami had not scored since the 4:43 mark of the first quarter and while Duke was down 14-3, they were able to move the ball effectively, so they seemed poised to go on a scoring drive. Pinckney put a stop to that train of thought very quickly.
On the first play of the drive, Jones’s pass was tipped by Miami defensive back Michael Jackson and it seemed like it was going to fall to the ground, incomplete when Pinckney dove for the ball and was able to catch it and come up with the interception. The Miami sideline erupted with excitement and one could almost feel the air being sucked out of the crowd. From that point on, even though there was plenty of football left to be played, Duke’s best shot of making a comeback was gone.
In the second half, it seemed like the style of the game had changed from a potential offensive battle, to a defensive shutout. Both teams did not score any points until midway through the fourth quarter and it felt like both defenses had made major adjustments at halftime. In the third quarter alone, there six punts and each team forced a turnover. Richt spoke after the game about the defense and their ability to make key stops when needed.
“Our defense gave up some yards and some grass between the 20 yard lines, but when we got into the red zone, we found ways to force field goals and got a couple of turnovers when it really counted the most,” Richt said. “I thought our defense finished extremely well.”
Miami’s defense was the story of the game as they held Duke to 349 yards of total offense, forced two turnovers, had five sacks and did not allow a touchdown. The defense was led by Pinckney, who set a career high in tackles with 10, had one sack and an interception. Defensive lineman Pat Bethel was also key as he had a sack and forced and recovered a late fumble.
Offensively, Miami was led by Rosier, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 270 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also had 15 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Ahmmon Richards is a big play threat for Miami and he lived up to expectations with three catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. Backup running back Travis Homer also added a 40 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to put the game away for good.
Miami will not have the chance to relax coming off of this win because they will be on the road in Tallahassee against their rival, the Florida State Seminoles. While the Seminoles are 0-2 and have not been the same since losing their quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending injury, they are still a talented, tough opponent. Miami heads into this game with a 0-7 record in the last seven matchups between these two teams. Miami will be looking to end that losing streak and continue to better their chance of competing for a national championship.