MIAMI GARDENS — The Hurricanes left little doubt.
After a season of shaky-looking wins, 10th-ranked Miami (8-0, 6-0 ACC) took the stiffest test of the year head-on, and vaulted itself into the College Football Playoff picture.
Its 28-10 win over 13th-ranked Virginia Tech will have the committee talking come Tuesday. Its game against Notre Dame — ranked third before improving to 8-1 on Saturday — will get the country talking.
It’s about to get pretty wild around here.
Five takes from the game:
The Coastal in their clutches
The Hurricanes need one of two thing the rest of the season to get a spot in the ACC championship game:
- A win over either Virginia (at home Nov. 18) or Pittsburgh (away, Nov. 24)
- A Virginia loss (at Louisville, at Miami, or at home against Virginia Tech).
Either one of those things, and Miami will be in Charlotte on Dec. 2. It will be the first time Miami has played in the ACC’s championship game, since the league split into divisions in 2005.
Jaquan Johnson, elite playmaker
Miami’s top safety continued to live up to Miami’s high expectations, causing two critical turnovers when the Hokies were in prime position to score.
With 12 seconds left in the first half, Johnson caused a fumble at his own 12-yard line with a huge hit. The ball bounced to defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh. The 6-foot-4, 293-pound McIntosh rumbled 35 yards up the sideline, showing great balance as he bounced off a teammate and kept chugging.
With 38 seconds left in the third quarter, Johnson outdid himself. He made a spectacular one-handed interception at the Miami 24. That led to the biggest sequence of the game.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention junior cornerback Michael Jackson, who continues to make drive-changing plays.
Also: freshman safeties Amari Carter (sack) and Derrick Smith (fourth-quarter pass break-up) had shining moments.
Malik Rosier, comeback kid
Miami’s quarterback threw three interceptions. On two, Virginia Tech defenders made excellent plays on the ball. On one, he clearly misfired.
After the three interceptions, and gifted Johnson’s point-saving pick, he launched a picture-perfect deep ball to Ahmmon Richards for a 42-yard gain on the first play of the fourth quarter. On the next play, he saw daylight and ran as hard as he has all year, getting 13 yards into the end zone before the Hokies knew what happened.
Miami 28, Virginia Tech 10, with 14:34 to go.
Rosier (10-of-21, 193 yards, two touchdowns, three picks) also rebounded with a Virginia Tech gift: a turnover on downs, with 7:59 left in the third quarter. He hit Chris Herndon for a 43-yard touchdown, which was helped by a stiff block from Ahmmon Richards up the sideline, and Herndon skipping out of a tackle and speeding the rest of the way to the house.
His quick toss to Braxton Berrios (8 yards) got Miami on the board first.
Miami ran the ball better than expected.
After putting up a wimpy 59 yards on 32 carries against a miserable North Carolina team, we saw a whole different group.
UM gained its third-highest per-carry average of the year — 6.3 — against a team that aside from a wild opening game against West Virginia, was shutting down most everyone on the ground. Miami’s per-carry total was the second-highest the Hokies allowed, even more than Clemson gained (3.4) in its win over Virginia Tech.
Oh, and freshman DeeJay Dallas (six carries, 32 yards) looks like a No. 2 tailback. We said the same thing about sophomore Travis Homer earlier in the season, until Mark Walton went down. Then, Homer became Miami’s No. 1 back.
Homer (14 carries, 95 yards) looked the part, rushing for a 64-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Virginia Tech hadn’t allowed a run that long all year. He busted through a hole on the right side, created by guard Navaughn Donaldson — returning to fine form after an ankle injury marred his last few weeks — and tackle Tyree St. Louis.
What was that we were all saying about Miami’s offensive line not being able to run block? About that.
Dallas showed outstanding balance on a 19-yard rush in the first half, and shifted around three tackles on a 5-yard pickup in the fourth. Speaking of pickups, he had a couple nice ones — a necessary element if UM is going to keep trusting him.
Rosier had a 36-yard gain and several drive-extending scrambles. He gained a season-high 84 yards on 13 carries.
Really, though, this was about defense
As it has been for the whole year.
The Hurricanes were at their swarming best Saturday, with a crowd of 63,932 screaming and smelling blood.
Miami broke out the Turnover Chain for the third time with 7:59 left, after Jon Garvin, the freshman from Lake Worth High, scooped up a quarterback fumble caused by fellow defensive end Joe Jackson.
The fourth and final time the Chain came out: eight seconds left, after Sheldrick Redwine picked it in the end zone and ran it back 45 yards. Some way to finish it off.
Virginia Tech scored a season-low 10 points, gained a season-low 299 yards and went 3-of-14 on third down. The Canes forced those four turnovers, sacked Josh Jackson (20-of-32, 197 yards, two interceptions) four times and registered eight tackles for loss. The Hokies, not much for running the ball effectively anyway, gained 102 yards on 43 carries. Tough sledding (2.4 per rush).
This defense wins games. This defense may win a bunch more in this season to remember.