DURHAM, N.C. – Duke, looking to extend its 4-0 start and get revenge for the last time Miami visited here, hung around for a while.
But the Hurricanes’ talent took over.
No. 1 receiver Ahmmon Richards made his season debut and produced a 49-yard touchdown with 11:02 left, sending Duke fans heading to the exits. Fourteenth-ranked UM wound up winning 31-6, moving to 3-0 (1-0 ACC) and assuring itself a jump in the polls before next week’s game at likely-unranked Florida State.
Five takeaways from the game:
Ahmmon Richards: no longer hurt.
It was a long and at-times-frustrating road back for Miami’s No. 1 receiver, who strained his hamstring midway through camp. He missed about a month and a half of action, with Miami being extra careful not to stress the former freshman All-American. They would need him once the games mattered more.
It’s time for ACC play, and he’s healthy.
The former Wellington High star was the most talented player on the field Friday, looking like someone who, in two years, will garner a lot of attention on Sundays. He finished with 106 yards and a touchdown on three catches, a phenomenal 35.3-per-catch average.
He caught the first two passes of his sophomore season in the first quarter, looking as graceful and athletic as he did in last year’s 934-yard season. Both were sideline catches, where Richards beat the defense and kept his toes in bounds. His touchdown came on a shallow cross where he beat one defender, outraced several more, skipped out of a shoestring tackle and spread his arms wide as he crossed the goal line.
He would have had another score on the next drive, but he was called for pushing off.
It was his fifth career 100-yard game.
Malik Rosier started hot, cooled.
Brad Kaaya, now with Carolina Panthers with former Hurricanes Corn Elder, Greg Olsen and Ladarius Gunter, watched the game from the Miami bench.
Though Malik Rosier still has growing to do, Kaaya’s college team is in good hands.
Rosier had a blazing start: 8-of-8 for 155 yards and a touchdown, plus three carries for 20 yards and a touchdown. He finished 15-of-26 for 270 yards, returning to the place he made his first college start and producing a mostly-good outing.
Rosier’s improved throwing accuracy was evident early. His 27-yard, first-quarter touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios was perfect: back of the end zone, behind coverage, where only his 5-foot-9 receiver could get it.
On the second drive, he made more throws only his men could grab. He hit Richards for a 29-yard shot up the sideline, found Lawrence Cager in stride, and nearly rushed for a 7-yard touchdown but was dragged down. He plunged in on the next carry.
Third drive: Rosier threw the same pass to Richards – sideline streak, 28 yards – over coverage on the third drive, and competed a pass to Cager for another first down.
Duke’s defense causes trouble.
The Blue Devils entered the night 4-0, mostly because of its disciplined defense.
It was fourth in the nation in rushing yards per carry allowed, surrendering a paltry 2.33. It was 21st in overall defensive yards per play (4.57).
Those numbers weren’t an accident.
Miami finished with a season-low 139 yards on the ground (4.0 per carry). The Hurricanes averaged a nation-best 9.52 yards per carry in its first two games, against Bethune-Cookman and Toledo. Until Travis Homer’s 40-yard rushing touchdown with 4:48 left, Miami’s longest rush was a 13-yard scramble by Rosier.
Mark Walton (51 yards on 17 carries), coming off his 204-yard performance against Toledo, was mostly shut down on running plays. And worse, he appeared to be injured after a carry midway through the fourth quarter.
For a lot of the night, it looked something like the unit that struggled last year through that 0-4 stretch in October. Duke’s defense deserves credit for that, and for much of the game, shutting down the big plays that spurred Miami’s early 14-0 lead.
Both Miami lines were up-and-down.
A host of NFL scouts were watching warmups, and about a dozen of them were clustered at one corner of the field. That’s where Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton, R.J McIntosh, Joe Jackson and the rest of the Hurricanes’ defensive line was warming up.
The unit had some highlight plays: sacks by McIntosh, Norton and Jackson (twice), and a fumble recovery by Pat Bethel, but it also gave Daniel Jones (21-of-41, 166 yards, interception) too much time to throw in the second and third quarters, and had a hard time containing him on runs (31 yards on 18 carries. However, they started to take over in the second half, helping UM allow 2.8 yards per play in the final 30 minutes.
The linebackers deserve credit here, too. Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman combined for 19 tackles, and Pinckney registered a sack, an interception and 1.5 tackles for losses.
Even though the secondary busted on several plays, UM allowed six points in an ACC game for the first time since Oct. 23, 2014 at Virginia Tech (30-6 win).
Offensively, UM protected Rosier well enough at the start, and at the end, but sagged in the middle. UM couldn’t get much push late in the first half. One poor sequence, as an example: Navaughn Donaldson, the true freshman starter at right guard, was beat badly for a sack in the second quarter. On the next drive, he was replaced by fellow freshman Corey Gaynor, who committed a holding penalty. That late-second-quarter drive ended in a field goal, when Miami couldn’t push it in from the 1.
Miami has a punter.
There will be games where Zach Feagles will needed, and this was one.
UM’s freshman punter, the son of former NFL and UM standout Jeff Feagles, has mostly looked like his dad so far. Feagles, a rock-solid 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, was mostly able to kick it sky-high for UM’s coverage teams and didn’t allow a return.
He did have one freshman mistake.
Setting up from his own 42, he toe-picked a punt and sent it skyward — and nearly backward — toward the sideline. It took a Duke bounce near the line of scrimmage and went out of bounds at the 42, for a loss of a yard.