On a 30 degree night in Durham, North Carolina, three weeks removed from the last time the Miami Hurricanes played a football game, you’d expect somewhat of a lackluster performance.
However, it was quite the opposite.
The Hurricanes fired on all cylinders and delivered a 48-0 win over Duke, marking their first shutout against a Power Five school since it beat Syracuse 59-0 in 2001.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday night’s contest.
Most impressive win of the season.
It’s not like Miami had those 21 days to prepare for this match. Days after UM had 13 players unavailable for its 25-24 win at Virginia Tech, the program paused its practices on Nov. 16 due to a spike in COVID-19 positive cases. The ‘Canes missed two weeks of practice and had just four days to prepare for a cold road game at Duke.
But despite all the adversity — which included being down 15 players and three defensive starters — whether it was the offense, defense or special teams, everything clicked.
Miami totaled 524 total yards of offense — 220 of which came on the ground — scored six touchdowns, picked up 24 first downs and had three receivers record over 70 receiving yards. As for the defense, it notched 13 tackles for loss, three sacks and held the Blue Devils to zero points, zero red zone opportunities, 2.8 average yards per play, 1.7 average yards per rush, five for 15 on third downs and five turnovers — four fumbles and one interception.
“Defense, I thought from the opening kickoff, was spectacular,” said head coach Manny Diaz, who dealt with and has since recovered from COVID-19 in the past two weeks. “This is the kind of feel where the turnover chain really sort of became a household name back in 2017, so it was nice to see it come back out as it did tonight.”
Unlike in past weeks, Miami played at the level that its top-10 ranking asks them to, and the point differential shows that.
Running back room finding its groove.
The Hurricanes took a youth approach to its running back room on Saturday, giving freshman Jaylan Knighton the starting nod. But after losing a fumble on his first rush and leaving the game with an injury early in the first half, junior Cam’Ron Harris returned as the primary halfback.
Harris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He utilized a great block and accelerated for a 34-yard touchdown in the first half.
Harris started the season averaging 134 rushing yards per game in the first two contests. However, he has since been held to under 70 yards in every match. When Harris is feeling it, UM has more options on offense and thrives, so it’s great to see him getting his groove back.
“Cam ran like a man possessed tonight,” Diaz said. “Deserves a lot of credit for the way that he ran. Made some tough runs. The big ones all stand out but even some of the the shorter ones, he went and got the dirty yardage when that’s what’s required. I thought Cam really sparked our offense in the first half.”
Freshman Don Chaney also provided a spark, as he garnered 62 yards on nine carries, including a 31-yard rush. In addition to running with power, Chaney added four receptions for 81 yards, which featured a 51-yard catch.
If Harris, Chaney and Knighton — hoping he’s healthy — can continue racking up yardage as the season winds down, Miami will be well equipped in all categories on offense come Bowl Season.
Jaelan Phillips solidified his draft stock.
Any hope that ‘Canes fans had about Phillips returning for a final season in 2021 should probably come to an end.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pound defensive end was all over the field on Saturday, registering 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. And when he wasn’t making tackles, he was making Duke’s quarterbacks all night. Phillips also had a 10-yard tackle for loss on a 4th and 1 attempt that Miami would later use to extend their lead to 21-0.
Phillips has been UM’s most consistent defender this season, and the recent period of time off may have helped him reach a new echelon.
“You don’t get full time to heal until the season is done,” Phillips said earlier this week. ” [The time off] helps with little lingering things that have been bothering me, but my body feels great.
“At the end of this season, I have been a lot of work in the training room and this team’s philosophy is to put in as much work in the training room with recovery as we do on the field. I think that is key for us coming down the stretch.”
Phillips has now recorded 37 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, three pass deflections and an interception this season.
D’Eriq King can’t be stopped.
Another week passes and King continues to provide spectacular performances. He completed 16-of-24 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns, with his longest being an 89-yard touchdown strike to Mike Harley. The pass marked UM’s longest offensive play of the season and the fourth-longest passing TD in school history.
King added 46 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. His touchdown run came on a read-option play where he dove into the end zone despite having to take plenty of contact.
The dual-threat quarterback notched his 10th career game with three passing touchdowns and a rushing score. He’s currently tied for third-most such games in FBS over the past 25 seasons. Only Tim Tebow and Tajh Boyd (12 each) have more.
Tackling was excellent.
There isn’t much of an immediate post-game stat for whether or not a team missed tackles in a game. But if you tuned in on Television, Miami did not make any mistakes in that category.
If there is a stat that proves my argument, it would be the fact that Duke averaged 2.1 yards per play and 4.8 yards per reception. The Blue Devils were stuffed all night and the Hurricanes had a field day, producing five turnovers.
Even late in the game, UM’s young players got the job done. Freshman defensive end Elijah Roberts forced a fumble on a kickoff that was recovered by fellow first-year tight end Dominic Mammarelli. Freshmen Tirek Austin-Cave, Keshawn Washington, Isaiah Dunson, Marcus Clarke, Cameron Williams and Jason Blissett Jr. all recorded tackles.
“I give the credit to players. It was a great performance. Obviously, we drill the heck out of tackling and take a lot of pride in that. I was very excited with all our tackling, but seeing Marcus Clarke get in there and tackle. The interception, he’s got great ball skills.
“We’ve known that, but to see him get in there and tackle, to see [Isaiah] Dunson get in there and tackle, to see Keshawn Washington get in there and tackle, that’s big because that means their role on defense can increase.”