Takeaways from Miami's Win over Georgia Tech

Takeaways from Miami's Win over Georgia Tech

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It has become almost a given for the Miami Hurricanes.

If they’re facing an ACC opponent, there’s a very good chance they’ll be in a hard-fought, competitive game.

Each of Miami’s five conference games have all been decided by four points or less and Saturday’s showdown against Georgia Tech was no different.

But for the third week in a row, the Hurricanes came out on the right side of a close matchup, with Miami edging Georgia Tech 33-30 to push its record above .500 and remain in the race for the Coastal Division title and a berth in the conference championship game.

That was the good news for the Hurricanes. The bad news? Miami’s players and coaches know some costly mistakes helped keep the game close.

“I am just proud of our team for finding a way to win a game that, when you look at the things that occurred – to allow Georgia Tech to stay close, turnovers of course and scoring nine points on defensive scores – it was everything where we could say it was a day that was not our day,” Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said. “I’m just as proud of this team as anything else because we didn’t give in to that. The guys found a way to win. We made it hard by not being able to convert on some short yardage situations where we could have killed the game off, but the defense went out there and got the stops at the end and made the plays necessary to win.”

With their matchup against Georgia Tech now behind them, the Hurricanes (5-4, 3-2) will turn their focus to their annual showdown with rival Florida State (3-6, 2-4). But before they do, here, some of what players and coaches say they can take from their victory over the Yellow Jackets (3-6, 2-5):

1. Another gritty effort helps the Canes prevail

At this point in the season, every team in the nation is dealing with injuries and Miami is no different.

For weeks, the Hurricanes have been without quarterbacks D’Eriq King and Jake Garcia, offensive linemen Jalen Rivers and Corey Gaynor and running backs Cam Harris and Donald Chaney, Jr. Veteran safety Bubba Bolden was lost to a season-ending injury ahead of last week’s showdown at Pittsburgh.

On Saturday against Georgia Tech, more physical play meant a handful of Hurricanes – including defensive end Zach McCloud and center Jakai Clark – took some punishing blows. The thin numbers at running back meant Jaylan Knighton had to again carry a heavy load. Still, through it all, the Hurricanes found a way to not only persevere, but make crucial plays late – including one that had Clark and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke even trying to prevent a Georgia Tech score.

That isn’t anything any of Miami’s players or coaches take for granted.

“Our guys are competing their tails off, as I keep saying. Zach McCloud was out there on that last drive. You can name a bunch of them,” Diaz said. “These guys want to play and want to do whatever it takes for us to win the game. I’m proud of them and I’m grateful. I think we have a locker room full of grateful guys that they get a chance, not just because of their individual efforts, but because of the collective. They are a bunch of likeminded people who are about the right things and they’re having some success because of it.”

2. Rambo adds his name to the Miami record book

Charleston Rambo transferred to Miami hoping to make a difference in the Hurricanes receiving corps and he’s doing exactly that.

Rambo, who last week became a midseason addition to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, had a career-high 210 yards in Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech and in the process, added his name to the Miami record book.

He became just the fourth Hurricane to top the 200-yard receiving mark in a single game and now ranks second in that category behind only Eddie Brown, who had 220 yards against Boston College in 1984.

With his performance Saturday, Rambo now has a team-high 860 receiving yards on the season, a number that ranks 10th all-time at Miami for a receiver in a single season.

As impressive as his numbers were Saturday, though, they could have been even better, with a handful of drops and a fumble taking their toll.

That’s why even after his big day, Rambo stressed his need to continue improving.

“Being in company with those players and in the record book, it means a lot,” he said. “But I’ve got to stay humble, keep God first and keep getting better. I’ve got to go in next week, Sunday, Monday, practice, be better. I can be better. And I’m going to be better for the team and for myself.”

3. TVD keeps putting up big numbers

Van Dyke, a second-year freshman who took over the Hurricanes’ starting job after the injuries to King and Garcia, has been named the ACC Rookie of the Week in back-to-back weeks after his performances against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh.

The quarterback had another big day against the Yellow Jackets.

Van Dyke completed 22 of 34 passes for 389 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

And while the quarterback didn’t exactly put up big rushing numbers, more than once Saturday he showed his ability to move when needed, rushing for a pair of first downs on a late drive.

“He is a cool cucumber out there on the field,” Diaz said of Van Dyke’s composure Saturday despite some of the offense’s miscues. “And there was no flinch.”

4. Knighton is a workhorse

With Harris and Chaney Jr. out, Knighton has become Miami’s lead back – and the second-year freshman continues to produce.

Knighton, who had all of 52 carries in 2020, had 32 carries Saturday and finished with a game-high 162 yards and a touchdown.

And while Knighton has proven he can handle all of that work, Diaz did say after Saturday’s game that he’d like to see freshman backs Cody Brown and Thaddius Franklin Jr. get more involved through the last three games of the regular season.

“That’s a big number and I think some of the fourth-quarter situations have dictated that, but yes, we don’t look at Jaylan as a gadget guy,” Diaz said. “Jaylan is an every-down back and that is what he was at Deerfield [Beach High]. He can handle it. He does a good job of running inside and running between the tackles. It was good to see Thaddius get in there and get some [runs] and Cody some, but we’re going to have to get more production out of our depth because that is a high workload.”

5. Offensive line finds continuity

After injuries to Gaynor and Rivers forced the Hurricanes to adjust, Miami has settled on an offensive line that features Zion Nelson at left tackle, Navaughn Donaldson at left guard, Clark at center, DJ Scaife at right guard and Jarrid Williams at right tackle.

The unit has started five of the Hurricanes’ last six games and has, over that time, developed a continuity that has helped Van Dyke and the rest of Miami’s offensive playmakers shine.

In Saturday’s win, the Hurricanes totaled 563 yards, with 174 of those coming on the ground. Van Dyke was sacked just once and had plenty of time to get the ball to his playmakers.

While there were some struggles at times in short-yardage situations against the Yellow Jackets, during the Hurricanes’ three-game win streak Miami has totaled 1,473 yards of offense and that number has increased weekly.

The offensive line has, no doubt, played a part in that.

6. Turnovers take a toll

As impressive as some of Miami’s offensive numbers were against Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes know they could have been even better.

Miami fumbled the ball away three times Saturday and the Yellow Jackets capitalized, scoring 14 points off those turnovers.

Protecting the ball will be essential moving forward, especially with a showdown against the rival Seminoles looming. But Diaz said he was encouraged by how the Hurricanes found ways to bounce back after their mistakes.

“Certainly we have been phenomenal about protecting the football leading up to this game and then they just came in bunches there,” Diaz said. “Obviously, the one that gets returned back for a touchdown is vital. Offensively, we have been on a hot streak. We have kind of been humming and haven’t had a lot of adversity. They showed up and showed and showed how they were going to respond when it was not happening or when you do make a mistake. What I was really proud of was that the guys like Jaylan Knighton or Charleston Rambo came back and made plays. They came right back out there and made big plays, crucial plays for us to win. We talk about it in this league, that normally games are tight and close and you have to be able to hold your own and find a way to see it through, no matter what the situation is and our guys certainly can do that.”

7. Third (and fourth) downs were tough

One more area where the Hurricanes will look to improve next week? Their third and fourth down opportunities.

Miami was 6 of 13 on third-down chances against Georgia Tech and wasn’t able to convert on either of its two fourth-down chances. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, converted on eight of their 20 third-down opportunities.

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All of that, combined with the turnovers, helped keep the Yellow Jackets close.

“I think 8-for-20 is too many conversions, especially considering where they had been going in,” Diaz said. “Those last couple drives, they are going to sell out cover zero. They have the whole world up there close. There’s going to be one more of them than there is you. That’s not the type of thing you would see on a normal third down and one. Normally, you would see an RPO slant for a touchdown. You think you can get a yard. We were obviously disappointed to not be able to do that three times. That will be a big point of emphasis this week in practice to make sure we have a plan when yards are required because we could have taken a knee on that last one had we just taken the ball 36 inches.”

8. The freshmen safeties keep making plays

In the wins against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh, freshmen safeties Kam Kinchens and James Williams made their presence felt.

They did the same Saturday against Georgia Tech – with fellow freshman safety Avantae Williams adding his name to the mix.

Avantae Williams made a spectacular interception early to wear the Turnover Chain for the first time. He returned the pick 32 yards and finished the day with four tackles. Kinchens, meanwhile, had a team-high seven tackles and broke up two passes and James Williams added three tackles.

“It was actually kind of crazy, that last drive of the game, you look back at the secondary and you look across the board and I think we had three true freshmen standing there and you’re like ‘Holy cow, this is it, man. Make sure we’re going the right way with the coverage,’” Diaz said. “It’s a little exciting. It was great to see [Avantae] make a play. It was a play we needed someone to make. His effort and his relentlessness on special teams are helping us out. He’s just only going to get better and better. I’m proud of him and I know that he was happy to help contribute to our success today.”

9. Steed delivers

Linebacker Waynmon Steed had six tackles, including one for loss, in Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech and became Miami’s leading tackler in the process.

Miami, FL - NOVEMBER 6: The University of Miami Hurricanes against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Hard Rock Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Miami, FL.

(Photo by JC Ridley/University of Miami Athletics)

Given that last season, the redshirt junior had to battle back from a potentially career-ending knee injury, Steed’s emergence as one of Miami’s leaders has been especially sweet.

“It was a long process, coming back from my injury, coming in this year,” said Steed, who now has 42 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack this season. “In the off-season, I had to put in the work. It’s really just work. You never know when your time is coming. My time came up and I executed every game plan I was given and came in every day to work.”

10. It’s officially FSU week

As happy as the Hurricanes were to win their third straight, there was little time for celebrating.

Before leaving Miami’s happy locker room on Saturday, Diaz reminded his team of one simple fact: Florida State is up next.

And while the Hurricanes and Seminoles have both weathered some tough moments this season, when the two rivals meet, records often go out the window.

“The guys are excited right now, but that lasted about a minute or two after the game and then they were told it is Florida State week,” Diaz said. “We’re going to move on and get excited to go play in Tallahassee in a game that means a lot to this program.”

Added Steed, “Florida State and Miami. That is a rivalry since way back. Everybody is hyped up. Florida State is and we are. We just have to come out there with the right mindset to compete. It’s going to be a tough game. It’s not going to be easy, as you guys saw today. We are not just going to come in and think we are going to win. We are going to come in and fight and compete and execute every game plan.”