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Ten Takeaways from Miami's 48-0 Win over Duke

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

DURHAM, N.C. – It was a game unlike any they’d ever experienced.

It came after a weeks-long midseason pause amidst a global pandemic that impacted players and coaches in varying ways. It was against an opponent they didn’t expect to face this season. And it was preceded by an odd week of preparation that had players returning to the field in waves once medically cleared, all while they juggled the demands of final exams, a challenge they usually don’t have to handle in-season.

But by the time the Hurricanes walked off the field at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, they had recorded their first shutout of an ACC opponent and their biggest margin of victory over an ACC opponent since joining the conference in 2004.

Final score? No. 9 Miami 48, Duke 0.

“We didn’t go into the game pessimistic that we couldn’t do something like this, but to see the players do it [was great],” Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said. “It reminds me of what they’ve done all year. Every time it’s been sort of the darkest time, whether that was the uncertainty of the summer, some of these games where we’ve been down where it’s gotten kind of dicey—it was kind of dicey the last couple weeks—these guys have stepped up and they’ve stepped up in a big way. We had a really good week and they put it out there during the game.”

Though Saturday’s results across the conference eliminated Miami from contending for the ACC Championship Game, the Hurricanes know there’s still plenty at stake over the course of the next few weeks. They expect they’ll face a tough test Saturday when they return to Hard Rock Stadium for the first time since Oct. 24 to host a North Carolina team with one of the top offenses in the nation.

But before they turn their focus to the 20th-ranked Tar Heels, here’s a look at what the Hurricanes can take from their win over Duke.

1. Rust? What rust?

In the days leading up to the Duke game, Diaz made it abundantly clear the Hurricanes would have to be careful to avoid some of the pitfalls that have plagued other teams across the country who endured similar layoffs.

He cautioned players would need to protect the ball, noted that solid tackling would be at a premium and said it’d be hard to gauge players’ conditioning until the game was played.

Turns out the Hurricanes wouldn’t need very long to shake off any rust after their pause.

Though Miami turned the ball over on its second play from scrimmage, the Hurricanes bounced back in a big way, scoring on their third possession of the game. They never looked back.

By the end of the first quarter, Miami had pushed its lead to 14-0, and by halftime, the Hurricanes had a three-touchdown lead and looked to be on a different level than Duke.

The Hurricanes were efficient, dominant and were a team that appeared very much relieved and grateful to be back on the field after a tough stretch that kept teammates and coaches apart.

“Everybody was psyched about getting to play,” quarterback D’Eriq King said. “Just having three weeks off, sometimes you can take playing football for granted. Getting back in the building, it was a different kind of energy. I think our coaches did a great job all week of trying to get us prepared, trying to get us ready for the game and I think we cut it loose. There are still a lot of mistakes to clean up, but we’ll fix that tomorrow. I’m just so proud of the team and so proud of the coaches. They did a great job all week.”

2. The defense was a dominant force

When the Hurricanes announced their unavailability list an hour before kickoff, there were natural questions about how the defense would fare, given that several starters and key contributors wouldn’t be on the field at Duke.

Miami’s defensive veterans and some of the young players called on to help keep the defense on track more than answered those questions.

The Hurricanes not only kept the Blue Devils out of the end zone, but they also forced five turnovers, limited Duke to just 56 rushing yards and totaled 13 tackles for loss and three sacks.

The shutout was Miami’s first of a Power 5 opponent since 2001, its first of an FBS opponent since 2006 and its first shutout on the road since 2000.

Impressive, given all the unit has faced.

“I’ll be honest – I didn’t come into this game thinking we were going to put together a masterpiece, you know, a Picasso if you will,” defensive coordinator Blake Baker said. “When you talk about how many guys we had out, how many guys we didn’t have throughout the week just from a preparation standpoint, it was a special night. It was a lot of fun. I know I could get used to this.”

Added Diaz, “It’s hard to go somewhere on the road and shut somebody out. Defense, I thought, from the opening kickoff, was spectacular. Just the way our front played, just getting after them and then [being] relentless to the football. Obviously, Duke has had an issue with turning the ball over, but I think we got five, to get five turnovers [is great].”

3. D’Eriq King and the offense put up big numbers

 Another concern the Hurricanes had heading into the game was whether King and his receivers – who had seemingly hit their stride in the three games before the layoff – would be able to regain the timing that led to some memorable performances.

Miami would handle that challenge, too.

King completed 16 of his 24 passes for 248 yards with three touchdowns. His 89-yard touchdown pass to Mike Harley was the fourth longest passing play in program history and the longest passing play since a 97-yard pass from Kyle Wright to Darnell Jenkins against UNC in 2007.

Meanwhile, freshman Donald Chaney Jr. finished with four catches for 81 yards and nine carries for 62 yards, Cam Harris had a game-high 96 rushing yards, Brevin Jordan had four catches for 75 yards and the Hurricanes totaled 524 yards of total offense, including 220 rushing yards.

“I said earlier in the week that running the football is a must to win games and I’m proud of our guys,” center Corey Gaynor said. “Running the football is a team thing. It’s not just running backs and offensive line. When the receivers blocked on the perimeter, it springs stuff more than you guys could even imagine. I think it’s a great offensive effort the way we ran the football and we hope to keep doing it down the stretch here.

4. Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche delivered

Phillips and Roche – Miami’s two veteran defensive ends – were an absolute headache for the Duke offense all throughout the Hurricanes’ big win.

Phillips totaled four tackles – 3.5 of which came from behind the line of scrimmage. Roche, meanwhile, had six tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

When Miami’s defense was put in a tough sudden change situation after the Hurricanes’ only turnover of the game – one that came inside Duke territory – Phillips and Roche combined on a sack of Blue Devils quarterback Chase Brice that helped push Duke further from field goal range.

It was a play that came in the opening minutes of the first quarter and set the tone for Miami’s defense all night.

“The coaches kind of put it on us this week to come out and dominate. We had three weeks off. I think what you saw is just a team that was excited to be back out there playing football,” Roche said. “We hadn’t played or practiced in so long and it was just a blessing and a good feeling to be back out there. And I think that showed in our performance today.”

5. Cam Harris returns to form

It’s been a season of ups and downs for Harris, who came into the year as the veteran in Miami’s running backs room.

Against Duke, the junior had one of his best performances in weeks.

Harris totaled 96 rushing yards and scored twice, including on a 34-yard run in the first quarter. His rushing total was his highest since he had 134 yards in Miami’s 47-34 win over Louisville on Sept. 19 and after the win, he earned praise from both teammates and coaches.

“I think that he ran the ball extremely hard, like a maniac tonight,” Gaynor said. “Cam is just a great football player for us.”

6. Brevin Jordan makes his presence felt

Jordan, who started the season on the Mackey Award watch list, has battled injuries and illness this season, but on Saturday looked like his usual self.

After scrawling the words “Remember me?” on the shirt he wore under his jersey, Jordan scored Miami’s first touchdown of the night on a 24-yard pass play from King and finished with four catches for 75 yards.

“Brevin is a great player. He’s one of the best in the country,” King said. “It’s always good having him full go. Him and Will Mallory, I think it’s the best tight end duo in the country. I don’t think you can find two guys that talented on the same team, so having him back is big.”

7. Jose Borregales bounces back

Kicker Jose Borregales has been as steady as they come for Miami all season.

The redshirt senior entered Saturday’s game at Duke having missed on just one field goal attempt – and that was because it was blocked, not because it was a true miss.

In the waning minutes of the first half, Borregales missed his first kick as a Hurricane when his attempt from 43 yards sailed wide.

He’d respond by converting on both of his fourth-quarter attempts, including one from 52 yards.

Borregales also connected on all six of his point-after attempts. He heads into the final two games of the regular season 17-of-19 on field goal attempts and is a perfect 34-of-34 on point-after attempts.

8. Donald Chaney Jr. shows his versatility

Chaney Jr. has been a significant contributor for the Hurricanes all season. Against Duke, though, he showed he can do more than just run with the ball.

The freshman was Miami’s second-leading rusher Saturday with nine carries for 62 yards, but he also had a team-high four catches for 81 yards, including an impressive 56-yard catch-and-run play in the fourth quarter.

That helped set up a field goal that pushed Miami’s lead to 45-0.

Chaney wound up finishing with a game-high 143 all-purpose yards.

9. Youngsters come up big

Chaney wasn’t the only freshman to have an impact against the Blue Devils. More than a few of the youngest Hurricanes made big plays.

Cornerback Marcus Clarke notched an interception. Tight end Dominic Mammarelli recovered a special teams fumble and linebacker Corey Flagg notched five tackles and recovered a fumble.

As one might expect, once the game was over, many of the freshmen’s veteran teammates couldn’t stop raving about how well the youngsters performed.

“We’ve been telling them from the beginning of the season, honestly, that they need to be ready whenever. It’s always the ‘next man up’ mentality,” Phillips said. “So, the fact that they came in and stepped up like they did today was huge and I can’t be more proud of them.”

Added Jordan, “So, right now, the 5 a.m. lift—pretty much all the freshmen—they got the Turnover Chain three times, three dudes from that class. So, that’s amazing because those guys are the future…. Next year, they’re going to be guys that are going to have to play 60-70 snaps a game. And so, whenever anybody gets the Turnover Chain—Dominic Mammarelli got the Turnover Chain and I missed it, I literally missed it—but when anybody gets the Turnover Chain, it just excites all of us. It gets us all going.”

10. Navaughn Donaldson returns

Taking the field at Wallace Wade on Saturday night must have been an emotional experience for offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson.

It was on that same field last fall where Donaldson saw his season end after suffering a serious knee injury. Though earlier this year the senior announced his plans to redshirt this season, the NCAA’s decision to grant all players an extra year of eligibility opened the door for Donaldson to play this year, even if that playing time came late.

Against Duke, the left guard was key in helping open the path for Harris on his first-quarter touchdown run and was a consistent performer on the line throughout the night.

“It’s so hard on these guys, to watch their teammates play, to watch their teammates have success and to be on the side rehabbing. That’s not an easy rehab that Navaughn had to go through. And again, one the great things about this year not counting to eligibility, he didn’t have to worry about redshirting, he didn’t have to worry about anything,” Diaz said. “He could just work his way back in. I think Jakai [Clark] got dinged up a little bit and Navaughn went right in there. … I look forward to watching the film and seeing specifically how he played, but our offense did kind of get rolling around that time. And it was fun to see him just being around the guys around the guys again and contributing to our success. So, very happy for Navaughn and the hard work of our training staff that they’ve poured into Navaughn.”