- Down 14 in the second half, Miami scored twice in seven seconds and went on to defeat Virginia 44-28. The Turnover Chain was involved.
Miami’s beatdown of Notre Dame last week reverberated across the college football landscape. With one win, the Hurricanes affirmed their status as a resurgent power and stamped their place at the forefront of the College Football Playoff race. Their path to the final four seemed simple. Win the ACC title game, and they’d have nothing to worry about.
There was just one problem: Miami still had two more regular-season games to play, starting with Saturday’s visit from Virginia. The Hoos don’t have nearly as much to play for as the Hurricanes. (They clinched bowl eligibility a couple of weeks ago by beating Georgia Tech.) But you wouldn’t have known that by watching them on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Virginia disrupted Miami’s smooth run through the regular season by scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter and taking a seven-point lead into halftime in an eventual 44-28 loss. Hoos quarterback Kurt Benkert was just about perfect early, connecting on all 18 of his non-pressure-induced-throwaway attempts for 288 yards and four touchdowns before tossing a 30-yard pick six to Hurricanes defensive back Jaquan Johnson.
That score, which capped a seven-second span in which the Hurricanes notched two TDs, drew Miami level with Virginia at 28 with about 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, and the Hurricanes took their first lead of the game later in the frame with a 44-yard field goal. They were in control from there, as the angst over a listless start gave way to a forward-looking optimism about their postseason destination.
This victory keeps Miami on track to earn a playoff bid, as long as it can beat Clemson in the league championship tilt in Charlotte on Dec. 2. (The Tigers smashed The Citadel, 61-3, on Saturday.) The Hurricanes rose to No. 2 in the selection committee’s latest rankings, and they should stay in the top four through the end of this month assuming they can handle a road test at Pittsburgh next Friday.
What the win says about Miami’s on-field prospects is a different matter. It didn’t match Virginia’s intensity from the jump, and the Hurricanes had trouble burying the Hoos after turning it on in the second half before slamming the door by turning them over on downs on three consecutive series and scoring a pair of late touchdowns. Quarterback Malik Rosier threw two interceptions and was inefficient in totaling 210 passing yards.
Perhaps Miami didn’t approach this game with the same focus it did last week’s high-profile showdown with Notre Dame, which would be understandable given the caliber of opponent. The Hurricanes clearly were not operating at peak capacity most of the afternoon, and they’re fortunate that didn’t result in a loss that may have foiled their case for an invitation to the final four.
Miami has less than a week to regroup before traveling to take on the Panthers. It’s still well on its way to a spot in the national semifinals, but it will need to come out with more urgency to avoid a damaging upset. The Hurricanes did not look like one of the top four teams in the country for much of Saturday. At their best, though, they might be.