MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The scene Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium was all too familiar. No. 8 Miami was locked in a one-possession game with an unranked opponent. The Hurricanes’ offense had been mostly stagnant and their defense, usually so stout, had finally begun to bend a little too much.
This time, Malik Rosier and the Miami offense got the ball back with a lead for a potential final drive. With 5 minutes, 23 seconds remaining and a 1-point lead on Syracuse, the Hurricanes needed to string something together.
“It’s kind of repetitive,” Rosier said.
Nine plays, 85 yards and 2:35 later, Travis Homer dashed into the end zone to give Miami a 27-19 cushion it would not relinquish. The defense held to force a turnover on downs. For the third time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes escaped an ACC underdog with a one-possession win.
— Miami DieHards (@MiamiDieHards) October 21, 2017
It was maybe Miami’s least convincing win during a stretch of thrilling wins, but the Hurricanes (6-0, 4-0 ACC) hung on to beat an opponent which knocked off then-No. 2 Clemson only eight days earlier.
“Part of the reason was Syracuse is a really good football team,” coach Mark Richt said. “Everybody that’s played them this year has been been just talking about how much harder they’re playing now and with a purpose now.”
Neither the Hurricanes’ offense nor their defense could string together a successful 60 minutes. The first half was the defense’s showcase. Miami held the explosive Orange offense to only 137 yards and intercepted 4 passes. The offense, though, squandered a pair of red-zone chances. The Hurricanes entered halftime with a 13-3 lead, which probably should have been bigger.
Miami’s defense could only hold off the Syracuse offense for so long. During the final quarter, the Orange piled up 170 yards. Until Miami’s last drive, Syracuse (4-4, 2-2) outscored the Hurricanes, 19-7, during the second half.
“A lot of it was on us,” Rosier said. “When we get in the red zone, if we score those three or four times we get down there it’s 21 or 28.”
Still, Rosier pieced together, at least statistically, the most productive game of his career. The quarterback racked up a career-high 344 passing yards and was the only consistentl rusher, carrying the ball 9 times for 45 yards. The nail-biting nature of the win instead felt like the product of missed opportunities.
Miami’s first drive technically never happened. The Hurricanes intercepted Eric Dungey on the fifth play of the game only to let the quarterback strip the ball right back.
So the first real drive of the game for Miami began on its 25-yard line. The Hurricanes moved down the field – a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, a few other decent pickups for tight end Christopher Herndon – only to stall out on the goal line. Miami had four cracks at the end zone from the 6-yard line or closer and left with only a 3-0 lead.
“Their defense was definitely on point,” Homer said. “They were doing that today.”
Until the Hurricanes’ final drive of the game, there was no room for Homer to run. The running back finished with 95 yards on 20 carries, but 33 of those yards came on his final touch of the game. The sophomore entered that last full possession with 44 yards on 16 carries – an average of 2.8 yards per touch.
Miami missed another chance on its first drive of the second half. The Hurricanes defense pulled in their third interception at its 38.
The turnover chain may get a lot of use today. pic.twitter.com/m0Y5onYlDQ
— David Wilson (@DBWilson2) October 21, 2017
Rosier connected on a pair of first down passes to wide receiver Braxton Berrios and Richards. The Hurricanes were right back inside Syracuse’s 30-yard line in only three plays.
But the running game floundered again. Rosier and Richards missed a connection. Kicker Michael Badgley came out for another field goal. Miami entered halftime with a 13-3 lead. The Hurricanes’ four first-half takeaways yielded only 10 total points.
“That falls on us,” Rosier said. “Our defense did a great job. Anytime you hold Syracuse to three points, that’s huge.”
It left Miami with another heart-pounding fourth quarter in Miami Gardens. The Orange chipped away with four second half field goals, including one from 52-yards by kicker Cole Murphy on wet grass.
Earlier this week, Rosier said a professor told him the junior would owe him a new heart with the way games have been going. Saturday felt like the first time during this run a thriller was unnecessary. If the Hurricanes keep making some of the mistakes which plagued them against Syracuse it won’t be the last.
“We’re only halfway into the season now,” Rosier said. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
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