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Memorable Moments from the 2020 Season

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – It was, for the Miami Hurricanes, a season unlike any other.

There was a point before the start of fall camp when players and coaches weren’t even sure whether there would be games to play, let alone fans at Hard Rock Stadium to cheer for them.

But while the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic loomed over the entirety of the season and at one point even forced Miami to pause its team activities, the Hurricanes found more than a few ways to shine during the 2020 season.

There was the debut of a new high-powered, fast-paced offense that showcased the skills of Miami’s playmakers. The arrival of an experienced quarterback, a defensive end and a kicker who quickly established themselves as not only leaders in Miami’s locker room, but as some of the top players in the ACC. And on the field, there were heroic comebacks and a big win over a longtime rival.

Ultimately, the Hurricanes finished their season with an 8-3 record and a 7-2 mark in conference play, improvements over what they posted in 2019. Soon enough, they will begin the process of preparing for a new season with the hope of building on what they accomplished in 2020. Before they do, though, here’s a look back at ten of the most memorable moments from a season none of Miami’s players or coaches will forget any time soon.

1. A historic win over a longtime rival

Before kickoff, there was lightning, thunder and the possibility that one of the most anticipated games on the schedule would not begin on time.

Once it did, though, the Hurricanes were an absolute dominant force in their 52-10 win over Florida State in September.

Miami scored on its first six possessions, built a 38-3 halftime lead and never looked back in what became a historic victory. The 2020 Hurricanes became the first team on either side of the Miami-Florida State rivalry to top the 50-point mark in a single game. Miami’s 35-point halftime lead was the most lopsided in the history of the series and the 38 points scored in the first half were the most scored in a half by either team in the series.

“Like I say every week, I’m in awe of our guys and their ability to adjust with all of the things [coming] at them in this challenging year,” Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said after the win. “And they were worthy victors tonight.”

2. D’Eriq King shines at NC State

It didn’t take long after D’Eriq King’s transfer to Miami for the quarterback to prove he was going to be the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ offense.

But it was one of his performance in early November that will be remembered as one of the most dominant by a Hurricanes quarterback ever.

King completed 31 of 41 passes for 430 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions and added a team-high 105 rushing yards to lead Miami in a 44-41 comeback win at NC State.

According to ESPN, it was just the sixth time in the last 20 seasons that a quarterback had at least 400 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and 100 rushing yards in a single game.

“Tonight was the most fun game I think I’ve played in college football so far,” King said that night. “It was super fun. … A lot of people around the country doubt this team, especially off a bye week. I know there’s a lot of [talk], ‘Miami never wins off a bye week’ … just coming out here and getting the win, down by 10 in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t easy. But we found a way to win and it was super, super fun.”

3. New faces – and a new system – make their debut

King wasn’t the only high-profile player to join the Hurricanes ahead of the 2020 season. Defensive end Quincy Roche transferred to Miami from Temple, while kicker Jose Borregales transferred from FIU.

That trio – along with some talented freshmen – made their Hurricanes debuts in Miami’s 31-14 season-opening win over UAB on Sept. 10.

Also making its debut that night? The high-powered, fast-paced system run by offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who joined the Hurricanes coaching staff last January.

In Miami’s season opener, the Hurricanes ran 78 plays, totaled 492 yards – including 337 rushing yards – and 25 first downs. That night helped set the tone for a season in which the Hurricanes would average 439.8 yards per game, 6.02 yards per play and 34 points per game – all of which were improvements from the 2019 season.

4. Comeback Canes

King’s individual performance at NC State wasn’t the only thing that made that win memorable.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes fell behind 41-31 after a Wolfpack touchdown.

But with King leading the offense, the defense making several key stops, Borregales converting on a pair of field goals and wide receiver Mike Harley scoring on a 54-yard run-and-catch play, the Hurricanes managed to rally for a 3-point win.

That, in and of itself, was special. A week later, Miami did it again.

In a game at Virginia Tech in which the Hurricanes trailed by 11 in the second half, Miami rallied for a 25-24 win that gave the Hurricanes their seventh victory of the season.

King was a big part of the win again, his 36-yard touchdown pass to Mark Pope ultimately giving Miami the go-ahead score. Miami’s defense, meanwhile, kept Virginia Tech out of the end zone on each of the Hokies’ last five possessions, giving the offense the opportunity to come back.

“What an effort,” Diaz said after the Virginia Tech win. “The resilience of this team, week in and week out, is special.”

5. A dominant defensive showing at Duke

After the Hurricanes were forced to pause their season for nearly three weeks in November, Miami returned to action at Duke on Dec. 5 and delivered one of its biggest victories in years.

The Hurricanes forced five turnovers, held the Blue Devils to just 56 rushing yards and totaled 13 tackles for loss in a 48-0 win that marked Miami’s first road shutout since 2000 and its first ACC shutout since joining the conference in 2004. It was also the Hurricanes’ first shutout of a Power 5 opponent since beating Syracuse in 2001.

“It’s hard to go somewhere on the road and shut somebody out. Defense, I thought, from the opening kickoff was spectacular,” Diaz said that night. “Just the way our front played, just getting after them and then [being] relentless to the football. … To get five turnovers … This is kind of the field where the Turnover Chain sort of became a household name back in ’17, so it was nice to see it come back out as often as it did tonight.”

6. Jaelan Phillips’ big day at Virginia Tech

Miami’s game at Virginia Tech – thrilling as it was – wasn’t without its share of challenges.

The biggest? The fact the Hurricanes were without 13 players, including multiple starters. That meant more than a few Miami players who took the field at Lane Stadium were called on to play virtually every snap on their side of the ball.

Among them was defensive end Jaelan Phillips, who put together a performance deemed “one for the ages” by veteran defensive line coach Todd Stroud.

Phillips totaled eight tackles, a career-high 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the win, earning him ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors. One of Phillips’ stops came on the game’s final play as Virginia Tech attempted a last-gasp miracle.

“I’ve found my passion for the game again and I’ve been able to kind of improve on things I wasn’t able to improve on before,” said Phillips, who spent 18 months off the field while recovering from several injuries. “Other facets of my game are getting better and I’m able to kind of progress in that way. It’s just been a great experience, honestly. You work countless hours in the offseason together preparing for that and looking forward to that. … This is The U. This is everything I imagined. It’s a dream come true.”

Phillips finished the season with a team-high eight sacks, a team-high 15.5 tackles for loss, 45 tackles and an interception. He was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association, a second-team All-American by both the Associated Press and the Football Writers Association of America and was a Bednarik Award semifinalist.

7. Mike Harley breaks through

Entering the season, Harley – a senior – hoped to help set the tone for Miami on and off the field. But, there were points early in the year where he struggled.

When challenged by his coaches to step up his play, the wide receiver delivered a career performance in Miami’s 19-14 win over Virginia. Harley had 10 catches for 170 yards that night, the most a Hurricanes receiver had had against an ACC opponent since Allen Hurns had 173 yards against Pittsburgh in 2013.

Two weeks later at NC State, Harley had a game-high eight catches for a game-high 153 yards, with two touchdowns, including the game winner.

“It feels like I’m playing my best football right now,” Harley said after those two games. “The craziest part about it is I feel like I’m having more fun. I’m really relaxed, really having fun and doing what I’ve loved to do since literally day one.”

Harley went on to finish the season as Miami’s top receiver with 57 catches for 799 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named a third-team All-ACC selection last month.

8. Jose Borregales breaks records at Louisville

Miami’s kicking game had its share of struggles in 2019, but the addition of Borregales changed things for the Hurricanes this season.

And it didn’t take long for the redshirt senior to show his new teammates, coaches and Miami’s fans what he could do.

In the Hurricanes’ second game – a 47-34 win over Louisville – Borregales went 4 for 4 on field goal attempts and converted on all five of his point-after attempts.

One of those field goals was a 57-yarder late in the second quarter that was the longest field goal of Borregales’ collegiate career and tied a Miami record. Borregales now shares that mark with Michael Badgley, who hit from that distance in 2015 against Georgia Tech and Danny Miller, who connected from there in 1981 at Florida State.

The kick also set a new Cardinal Stadium record – despite the fact Borregales good-naturedly noted he could have done even better.

“I didn’t really hit it that clean,” he laughed after the win. “But my technique was smooth enough that the ball went straight. I knew as soon as I looked up, the ball was staying straight. … I just turned around knowing that I’d made it and I got the team hyped up a little bit.”

Borregales finished the year 20 of 22 on field goals and converted on 37 of his point-after attempts. He was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, the Sporting News, the FWAA and the AFCA. He also earned first-team All-ACC recognition and is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.

9. Another top class is on the way

College coaches across the country found themselves in the daunting position of having to recruit and sign top prospects this season without the chance to do much in-person recruiting.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel was restricted and coaches and players connected virtually over the course of the last 10 months.

Still, the Hurricanes managed to sign a highly regarded recruiting class filled with some of South Florida’s top high school football players during December’s Early Signing Period.

Among Miami’s signees were five-star defensive tackle Leonard Taylor of Miami Palmetto, five-star safety James Williams of American Heritage-Plantation and four-star quarterback Jake Garcia of Grayson High in Georgia.

With National Signing Day still looming in February, Miami’s class is currently ranked 11th in the nation and second in the ACC and Diaz believes all of the future Hurricanes have the opportunity to make an impact once they arrive on campus.

“They love Miami. Like I said, I don’t know the exact number, but I bet 85 percent of them were committed before we even played a game, coming off 6-7 from a year ago,” Diaz said last month. “You add them to the ones that signed with us this day last year when we’d just lost to FIU and Duke, there’s something about them. They believe in what we’re doing. They believe in this place. They believe in what it means to be a Miami Hurricane and they’re really, really talented. They’re tight. They want to come in. They want to go right to work and like I said, as a coaching staff, we can’t wait to get them in here.”

10. King and Co. decide to “Run it back”

In the days leading up to the final game of the season, the Hurricanes got some of the best news they could have wanted late in the year: King was opting to return to Miami for an additional season, an option granted to student-athletes across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the days since, several of Miami’s top playmakers – including running back Cam Harris, safety Bubba Bolden, and tight end Will Mallory – have said that they, too, want to return to the Hurricanes next season. Punter Lou Hedley indicated earlier in the year he intended to return for another season as well.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: The University of Miami Hurricanes against the FSU (Florida State University) Seminoles at Hard Rock Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Miami, Florida.

(Photo by Eric Espada/University of Miami Athletics)

Though King was injured in Miami’s final game, the expectation is he should return to the field in August. With his return, the Hurricanes will have a quarterback who threw for 2,686 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for 538 yards and four touchdowns leading the offense.

Meanwhile, Harris – Miami’s leading rusher – totaled 643 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Bolden led the defense with a team-high 74 tackles. Mallory had 329 receiving yards and Hedley, a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, averaged 47.2 yards per punt.

“Miami is a special place and I want to see it get back to where it’s been,” King said last month when announcing his decision. I love Coach Diaz and Coach Lashlee to death. I think they’re two great guys, two great coaches. I love my teammates. I think it was a win-win. When I decided to come back, it was me and my family’s decision, but knowing that I have the coaching staff and all my teammates behind me, that was the biggest thing for me.

“It’s a really, really special place. Being here one year and not getting the full effect on it, I wanted to run it back and see how far we can go, see if we can take the next step to make this place really great.”