Unbeaten Miami, led by poised quarterback Malik Rosier, welcomed Syracuse to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday looking to avoid an upset against a squad that knocked off then-No. 2 Clemson on Oct. 13 at the Carrier Dome.
Mark Richt’s No. 8 Hurricanes were coming off back-to-back last-minute thrilling wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, respectively, and they were trying to reach 4-0 in the ACC for the first time since coming over from the Big East.
Sure enough, a little bit of history was made in the Sunshine State late Saturday afternoon, as the Hurricanes remained in the hunt for the ACC title and a possible berth in the College Football Playoff with a 27-19 win over the Orange. Miami won its 11th in a row dating to last year, and Richt moved to 15-4 since taking over the UM program.
It wasn’t always pretty, as the Miami offense was out of sync for a good portion of the game and converted just 3 of its 13 third-down attempts, but Syracuse committed 4 turnovers, and star quarterback Eric Dungey was an inefficient 13 of 41 for just 137 passing yards.
Manny Diaz’s defense made a big play on the opening possession of the game, intercepting Dungey on third-and-10 in a sign of things to come. Demetrius Jackson, though, fumbled on the return to give the ball back. After an Orange punt, the Hurricanes went on a long 13-play, 74-yard drive that featured a healthy dose of Travis Homer on the ground and Christopher Herndon IV through the air. But it stalled at the Orange 1-yard line, as Richt elected for a Michael Badgley 18-yard field goal.
The Orange offense just couldn’t get anything going through the first quarter, and its final possession of the frame ended when Dungey was intercepted by Michael Jackson on a wheel route. Dungey finished just 1 of 8 for 12 yards with 2 picks in the first 15 minutes as the Orange couldn’t get in sync. The troubles continued when Dungey threw his third pick of the game, this time to Jaquan Johnson, on the team’s first possession of the second quarter. The dual-threat signal caller entered with 2,080 passing yards and 386 rushing yards plus 8 touchdowns on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes began the second quarter with a touchdown, as Rosier hooked up with Herndon for a 10-yard scoring strike to finish a drive that went eight plays for 84 yards and gave them a 10-0 advantage. Rosier was white-hot to start the game, which was a change from previous weeks when he started slowly. About the only thing going wrong for the Hurricanes was the play of Ahmmon Richards, who had several drops after missing reps in practice due to his hamstring injury. He would get further banged up, as he had a noticeable limp in the fourth quarter.
Despite boasting two of the nation’s best receivers in Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips — who came in with a combined 118 catches — the Orange had just 3 points at the half. The pair finished with just 98 combined yards and no scores. But they were very much still in the game down 10 after the teams exchanged field goals because coach Dino Babers has a defense that is starting to play much better football.
The Hurricanes were just 1 of 6 on third-down conversions and had just 47 rushing yards in the first half. They managed just 10 points off 4 Syracuse turnovers, aided in part by critical drops from receivers, so the Orange had to be ecstatic to just be down 13-3 after the worst first half Dungey has played in 2017.
A couple of Miami punts to start the second half, coupled with a Cole Murphy 40-yard field goal after the offense marched 70 yards in 12 plays, kept the Orange in the game down just 13-6. But after a Miami defensive stand turned the ball back over to the offense, the Hurricanes struck quickly. Rosier connected with speedy Jeff Thomas on a 48-yard touchdown on third-and-5 to give Miami some breathing room.
But Dungey and the Orange would not quit. The veteran signal caller, who appeared to bang up his knee on a third-quarter drive, led a six-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a Moe Neal 15-yard scoring run. Despite the giveaways and other miscues, Syracuse entered the final frame down just 1 score after their ground game led by Dungey picked up in the third quarter and the defense continued to play inspired.
However, Rosier and the Hurricanes are used to playing in tight games. After Murphy nailed a 45-yard field goal, Miami held a 20-16 lead. The offense drove down to the Syracuse 31-yard line and faced fourth-and-3. Instead of having Badgley attempt a long field goal on a field that had endured a lot of rain, Richt went for it. But Rosier’s pass to Darrell Langham fell incomplete.
Meanwhile, Babers had no problem going to his kicker with the big leg when he needed it most. The Orange added a 53-yarder from Murphy when they faced fourth-and-8, cutting the deficit to a point to put Rosier and the Miami offense in yet another pressure cooker late in the game. Once again, though, the Hurricanes were ready for the moment. On his fourth rush of the drive, Homer burst through the line for a 33-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 8.
Syracuse then faced fourth-and-7 at its 46, but Dungey’s pass to Philips fell incomplete, and the Hurricanes ran out the clock.
The last league title for the Miami program was the Big East crown in 2003, and it was won in part because it rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat Syracuse 17-10. The Hurricanes didn’t have to come back against the Orange on Saturday, but they’re hopeful that this win is a sign of things to come as we get closer to the first release of the College Football Playoff rankings on Halloween Night.
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