Thanks to a 22-10 victory over defending divisional champ Duke, Miami is now back in the ACC Coastal Division race.
While the reality of the ‘Canes competing for a championship isn’t exactly a surprise, the reason that they are in league title picture certainly is. Just one week after a poor showing against Nebraska, the UM defense finally played up to its potential.
Let’s be honest: Saturday night’s performance against Duke caught even the most optimistic fan by surprise. After all, the Hurricanes have struggled defensively under Al Golden’s watch. Since he took over in 2011, Miami has allowed more than 200 yards rushing 15 times, including four 300-yard efforts.
Notice that I said that it caught the fan by surprise and not the coaching staff. Despite calls for him to completely overhaul the defense, Golden stuck with his scheme, insisting that the team had made a lot of progress, and merely had a bad game against one of the top running backs in the country.
That progress was evident on Saturday. Playing against a Blue Devil offense that came into the contest averaging almost 400 yards and 43.5 points per game, the Hurricane defense rose up to the occasion. UM’s front seven dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting Duke to just 83 yards on 25 carries.
To put things in perspective, that total (3.3 yards per carry) was almost half of what the Blue Devils have averaged on the ground this season.
The Miami defense was equally impressive in the passing game. Thanks to a strong showing from both the pass rush and the secondary, Duke completed only 21 of its 49 passes for a relatively pedestrian 177 yards. As a result, the Devils were only able to convert on two of their 15 third-down chances, and failed on both fourth-down chances.
In addition, the Canes forced three turnovers and held Duke to seven three-and-outs in 16 drives.
In other words: Golden was right all along. The problem wasn’t the scheme; it was merely execution.
So what does this all mean?
Simply put: the ‘Canes are now a force to be reckoned with in the ACC Coastal Division. Now that the defense has finally figured things out, there’s no reason why Miami couldn’t beat everyone remaining on its schedule except for Florida State. Provided that they do exactly that, it’s tough to see the Hurricanes not reaching the all-elusive ACC title game, which has remained outside their grasp since the ACC moved to a split-division format in 2005.
If Miami can fill that nagging void on its ACC resume, this season will be viewed as a definite success.