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Takeaways from Miami's Win over NC State

Takeaways from Miami's Win over NC State

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – They smiled as the alma mater played. Celebrated in the locker room.

Now that they were finally the ones on the right side of a close game, the Hurricanes couldn’t help but savor a moment that felt like it was weeks in the making.

After gut-wrenching, last-second losses to Virginia and North Carolina by a combined five points, Miami took the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday night looking every bit like a team that had something to prove.

The Hurricanes started fast, answered when North Carolina State rallied and ultimately, edged the then-18th-ranked Wolfpack 31-30 to pick up their first conference win of the season.

It was a performance in which Miami’s offense, led by second-year freshman Tyler Van Dyke, delivered a series of big plays and in which the defense made several key stops.

More than that, Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said, it was a night that seemed to finally reward the work his players have been putting in through a tough start to the year.

“Any coach would stand on a podium and say you believe in a team with mental toughness. You believe in a team with resiliency. You believe in a team that never quits, that stays together despite all the odds and we’ve had really poor odds that we’ve had to fight through…When you see a team that has those attributes and it’s not happening, you hurt for them,” Diaz said. “To their credit, they could have come back Tuesday, Wednesday [after the North Carolina game] and who knows? We could have had issues. We could have had problems…And everybody comes back to work. [We] practice great. We prepare great…To get in a close game and finally see your way through…just really proud that their effort is rewarded and not just their effort, but who they are in their DNA. It should win and it did.”

With their first ACC win now in the books, the Hurricanes will now turn their focus to another top-20 showdown, this one Saturday at 17th-ranked Pittsburgh. But before heading to the Steel City, here’s some of what Miami can take from its win over the Wolfpack.

1. “The fight is special in that team”

As Diaz alluded to in his post-game comments, the Hurricanes could have turned to finger-pointing and negativity after their losses to Virginia and North Carolina.

Instead, the team rallied together for its most impressive win of the year.

The Wolfpack brought one of the nation’s top defenses to Hard Rock Stadium and Miami managed to gain 420 yards of total offense. The defense held NC State to just 3 of 14 on third-down conversions and got one of its biggest stops of the year late in the fourth quarter – a stop that kept the Wolfpack from extending their final drive.

All of that – plus continued strong play in the kicking game – played a part in Saturday’s win.

Miami’s resiliency and its willingness to continue improving were key, too.

“This team is mentally tough. This team is resilient. We’ve shown it again and again. It’s baked into our DNA at this point. That’s part of the culture of our program,” Diaz said. “We had to play better. We had to get better as a team [and] I thought we got better today. I thought our run defense got better today. To hold them to basically 70 yards rushing when you take away the fake punt, that’s getting better…Holding them to 3-for-14 on third down, that’s getting better. These are tangible things that we’ve needed to improve on to be the team that we wanted to be. The fight is special in that team and they just hadn’t seen the reward of the win. Tonight they got the win and you watch them as a staff, we watch the players, and you’re so proud of them and you’re so happy they finally got the reward that, in my mind, they’ve deserved.”

2. This time, there was no slow start

In their two conference losses, the Hurricanes quickly found themselves playing from behind.

Against Virginia, it was a nine-point first quarter deficit. Against North Carolina, it was an 18-point deficit midway through the second quarter.

Miami’s players and coaches have made it clear that the Hurricanes need to be better in the opening quarters of games and against NC State, they were.

On their first possession Saturday, the Hurricanes quickly moved down the field on an 8-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended when Van Dyke connected with Charleston Rambo on a 25-yard touchdown pass.

Miami’s lead would grow to 14-3 early in the second quarter when Van Dyke hit Jaylan Knighton on a 53-yard scoring play. NC State would rally and take a 3-point lead at the half, but the fact the Hurricanes started fast put them in a much better spot than they faced in weeks prior.

“I thought it looked a lot better tonight because we were confident from the start,” Diaz said. “We talked about that. We had some conversations during the week [about] ‘Why do we know we’re going to win the second half of the games against Virginia and North Carolina…We felt it. We believed it in our cores that we were going to win those games. And why did we not feel that way in the first half? I thought our guys tonight, they went out, they were confident…I think we’re becoming a purer version of the team that we we’re going to climb up to being as we get on in the season.”

3. Tyler Van Dyke continues growing up

Since taking over as Miami’s starting quarterback on Sept. 25 against Central Connecticut State, Van Dyke has continued to improve.

He took another step on that front Saturday, earning his first conference win and doing it on the strength of a career night.

Van Dyke completed 25 of 33 passes for a career-high 325 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He consistently made the plays Miami needed, from the scoring passes to a key 21-yard pass to Will Mallory on 3rd-and-16 let that let the Hurricanes extend their final drive and eventually, run out the clock.

And Van Dyke did all of that in the face of intense pressure from the Wolfpack defense which was fueled by some of the pre-game comments the quarterback made early in the week regarding his confidence in Miami’s ability to move the ball.

It turns out Van Dyke’s words fueled his teammates, too, who have now seen the quarterback continue to grow not just on the field, but in the locker room as one of Miami’s leaders.

“To me, to be a young guy like that, it’s hard to be the starting quarterback at the University of Miami. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that,” Diaz said. “For him to step up in a leadership role, like he’s done, to try and own that, this team was waiting for someone like that to follow and they’re just so excited about him not just doing it, but that he was able to lead us to victory.”

Said Rambo, “He tells us that he’s going to make the throws, he’s going to make the correct reads and just letting the offense know he’s going to do his job, so we need to do our job and blend in. So, you see what happened. We got this ‘W.’”

4. Rambo delivers

A transfer from Oklahoma, Rambo arrived at Miami looking to make an impact and show off his playmaking ability.

He did both of those things Saturday.

The receiver finished with nine catches for a game-high 127 yards with two touchdowns. He also had a 60-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage of the second half that helped the Hurricanes score just five plays later.

“I’m just going out there and doing my job, being better for my quarterback and doing right by my quarterback,” Rambo said of his performance. “It makes me better and him better. Whatever gets the job done for Tyler and the school, get it done.”

Said Diaz, “I can’t say enough about Charleston Rambo…I think he’s reached that status where, he’s a guy that in my mind, defenses have to figure out a way to try and take away. He’s that guy…I just think Rambo’s role will just grow more and more.”

5. Knighton steps up

With fellow running backs Cam Harris and Don Chaney both ruled out for the season now because of injuries, Knighton – a second-year freshman – knows the Hurricanes are going to count on him to carry a heavy workload the rest of the year.

Knighton, for his part, has embraced that role.

After totaling 165 all-purpose yards against North Carolina in a performance that earned him ACC Rookie of the Week honors, Knighton came up big again, rushing for 83 yards against the Wolfpack. He had another 83 receiving yards with a touchdown.

Next home game: Georgia Tech

Miami hosts Georgia Tech for its annual homecoming game on Nov. 6 at Hard Rock Stadium.

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Knighton knows more of that will be expected from him moving forward and as he reiterated Saturday night, he’s ready for the challenge.

“I just do my job, do my job, whatever I’m assigned. I run hard and that’s how I just do that. I just run hard, do my job, protect TVD, believe in my o-line and that’s going to get us where we need to do,” Knighton said. “Me working hard and me going hard is an everyday thing. So I just put it on the field on Saturdays on tape. I prepare throughout the week, Monday through Friday, and perform on Saturday. So, with that, I just stay focused, work hard, grind with my teammates and let that go.”

6. Mallory, Arroyo get involved

On the eve of National Tight Ends Day, two of Miami’s tight ends make their presence felt.

Mallory, a junior, had three catches for 34 yards, while freshman Elijah Arroyo had a 29-yard catch.

Both tight ends made plays that came at key moments. Arroyo’s 29-yard grab came on third down and extended a Miami drive that resulted in an Andy Borregales field goal. Mallory had a 5-yard touchdown and caught Van Dyke’s final pass of the night, a 21-yarder on the Hurricanes’ last drive that helped Miami run out the clock in its one-point win.

7. Kinchens’ big stop

Throughout Miami’s tough start, the Hurricanes have endured their share of tackling woes.

Finding ways to improve at getting their opponents on the ground has been a priority for the Hurricanes and while that work will continue, one of Miami’s youngest defenders showed his ability to make a game-changing open-field tackle when the Hurricanes needed one most.

With North Carolina State driving on what was ultimately its last possession, Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary connected on with Thayer Thomas on a 4th-and-8 play that netted just six yards. Why? Because Hurricanes safety Kam Kinchens was there to bring Thomas down just in front of a very appreciative Miami sideline.

Kinchens finished with four tackles.

“Just a routine play,” he said of the wrap-up of Thomas. “We just did it every day in practice. Every time they’re in stacks, he’s going to step off the line and do an out route, so I already knew it was coming. I just had to make the play and I did. It’s a routine play, got to make it all the time. That’s how big plays come.”

8. Miami’s young defensive players make their presence felt

Kinchens, a second-year freshman, wasn’t the only first or second-year player to step up for the Hurricanes’ defense on Saturday.

Fellow second-year freshmen Isaiah Dunson also had four tackles, as did true freshmen James Williams and Marcus Clarke.

In recent weeks, Diaz has said that more than a few of Miami’s youngest players on both sides of the ball have stated their case for more playing time.

With more performances like the ones they had Saturday, Kinchens, Dunson, Williams and Clarke could see even bigger roles.

9. Effectiveness on third downs made a difference

North Carolina State entered Saturday’s game with the best third-down defense in the nation.

The Hurricanes, though, converted on six of their 17 third-down chances and Van Dyke was unfazed on that clutch down – and fourth down, too.

According to The Associated Press, Van Dyke was 8 of 10 for 172 yards and two touchdowns on third and fourth downs against NC State.

And defensively, Miami held the Wolfpack to 3 of 14 on their third-down opportunities, which earned praise from Diaz.

“Holding them to 3-for-14 on third down, that’s getting better,” Diaz said. “These are tangible things that we’ve needed to improve to be the team that we wanted to be.”

10. Time to focus for another top-20 challenge

There’s no doubt the Hurricanes needed Saturday’s win against NC State and they enjoyed it.

But as much as that victory meant to all of them, Miami’s players and coaches know there’s still plenty of work to continue to do and they can’t afford to take any future wins for granted.

Next Saturday, they’ll travel to face a Pittsburgh team that is ranked 17th in the latest AP Top 25, is coming off a 27-17 win over Clemson and is, according to Diaz, “playing as well as anybody in the country right now.”

“Yes, we will be motivated to play Pitt, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be motivated to play anybody, which is where we’re at and how desperate we are to find more wins,” Diaz said.