Miami uses early offense, stellar second-half defense to dispatch Duke

Miami traveled to Durham, N.C., for a battle with fellow unbeaten Duke in an ACC Coastal division showdown on Friday night. The Hurricanes were making their first appearance at Wallace Wade Stadium since the wild finish two seasons ago that saw them claim victory on a eight-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown on the final play of the game. The conference later admitted that it should not have counted, and game officials were suspended.

This time around, though, the No. 14 ‘Canes didn’t need a frantic finish to put away the Blue Devils.

Mark Richt’s squad used a couple of early scores to jump on top against a Duke team that had won three straight games against Power 5 opponents (Northwestern, Baylor and rival North Carolina) and had won its first four games for only the sixth time since 1960. Despite an extended scoreless stretch after grabbing an early 14-0 lead, the ‘Canes received a sound defensive effort to complement the offense en route to a 31-6 win over the Blue Devils, who were going for their first 5-0 start since 1994 and a likely spot in the AP Top 25 poll.

Meanwhile, Miami — which for just the fourth time since 2005 is the highest-ranked team from Florida in the AP Top 25 — continued to roll. The last three times that the ‘Canes were the highest-ranked team in the Sunshine State, they lost the same week. That trend ended emphatically on the road against a good Blue Devils squad.

After a Michael Pinckney sack on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 13-yard line that snuffed out a balanced opening Duke drive, Miami took over and struck quickly, with star running back Mark Walton showing that his ankle would not be troublesome. He leaked out of the backfield to catch a pass from quarterback Malik Rosier and galloped 39 yards to the Duke 25-yard line. Then, on second-and-12, Rosier faced pressure and was hit as he completed a 27-yard strike to Braxton Berrios for the game’s first score. Rosier did a beautiful job of standing in the pocket and delivering a perfect pass to his receiver.

Miami made it 14-0 when Rosier punched it in from 1-yard out to complete a drive that featured a pretty pass down the sideline to Ahmmon Richards for 29 yards. Richards would haul in a 28-yarder later in the quarter in his first game of the season after being sidelined by a hamstring issue. It was essentially a perfect opening frame for Rosier, who was 8-of-8 passing for 155 yards and a touchdown while also chipping in 3 carries for 20 yards and a score.

Rosier, who spread the ball around, is in his first year as Miami’s full-time starter, though the redshirt junior actually made his first career start in the team’s crazy win in Durham two seasons ago when Brad Kaaya was sidelined by a concussion. In that contest against the Blue Devils, Rosier threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns. In Friday’s victory, he finished 15 of 26 through the air for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns against 1 interception.

The Miami defense performed really well against a good, balanced Duke offense. Manny Diaz’s unit generated a lot of pressure on dual-threat signal caller Daniel Jones, nearly getting a Pick 6 before a deflected pass led to a Pinckney interception. After the Hurricanes had strayed away from their balanced attack, with Richt calling six straight pass plays, the team went back to Walton and the ground game. Despite some protection issues in the second quarter, Rosier connected with Berrios for 25 yards to set up the offense in a goal-to-go situation. However, the Duke defense stiffened, forcing the ‘Canes to settle for a Michael Badgley 20-yard field goal.

Two Jones passes to Johnathan Lloyd that covered 42 yards set the Blue Devils up in Miami territory late in the first half to set up an Austin Parker 36-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-6 at the half.

The teams traded punts on their first few possessions to start the second half — including one that went for negative-1 yard by Miami’s Zach Feagles — as both defensive fronts continued to settle in and made life difficult for the opposing quarterbacks. Miami started to lean more on Walton, whose 25-yard reception on third-and-2 kept one drive alive, but an interception by Bryon Fields Jr. of a Rosier pass kept the Blue Devils in the game as it morphed into a defensive struggle. Jones hit T.J. Rahming for 28 yards, but Cutcliffe’s team failed to convert a fourth-and-3, as a Jones pass went incomplete to Rahming.

While Rosier’s play tailed off, the ‘Canes didn’t have much luck on the ground against a much-improved Duke defense. A coverage bust by the unit, though, allowed the speedy Richards to take a short pass on an under route from Rosier 49 yards for a touchdown that made it 24-6. And the ‘Canes would not look back after they had scored just three points since the first quarter until that touchdown.

The defense stepped up, though, as the ‘Canes were able to get to Jones, and they were stellar on third down. When the offense stalled, the defense bent a bit but never broke. Miami held Duke to just 4-of-18 on third down, and Jones was an inefficient 21 of 41 through the air for 166 yards with an interception.

Certainly, this is a much different Duke squad than the one that struggled through a 4-8 campaign in 2016, as David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils have already matched their win total from last season. Miami had yet to play a Power 5 opponent due to two games postponed/cancelled because of Hurricane Irma, so the ‘Canes passed their first test in a season that is filled with high expectations.

Next up for Richt’s squad is the makeup game against in-state rival Florida State, which is winless heading into Saturday’s road tilt against Wake Forest. Friday night’s game was just Miami’s third of the year after it canceled a September 9 contest at Arkansas State and postponed the game against Florida State.

Before the season began, the Hurricanes-Seminoles tilt was supposed to be one of the most important games of the year in the league. And it certainly still is for the undefeated ‘Canes. But even with Deondre Francois done for the season, FSU’s issues are much bigger than true freshman James Blackman, who was not the reason for the loss to North Carolina State last week. Still, Derwin James and the FSU defense will pose a serious challenge to Rosier and this Hurricanes offense, which will have an extra day to prepare. Walton will also have an extra day to rest an ankle that may have been re-injured late against the Blue Devils.

Miami has yet to play for an ACC title. A win next week will go a long way toward taking a big step as a program under Richt.

The post Miami uses early offense, stellar second-half defense to dispatch Duke appeared first on Diehards.

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