For all the talk about the Miami Hurricanes’ offense, even hints of Heisman where quarterback Brad Kaaya is concerned, two big defensive plays turned the momentum in a 35-21 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta.
Back-to-back scoop-and-scores immediately following a tie-breaking score turned a 7-7 struggle into a 28-7 advantage late in the second quarter. It was enough to lift the Canes, who won on the road for a second consecutive week.
Sure, Kaaya got his. The junior quarterback threw for 241 yards and one touchdown, completing 13-of-19 passes with no interceptions. His 31-yard touchdown pass to Stacy Coley answered the Jackets’ 14-point third-quarter rally and effectively put the game out of reach. Coley broke a couple of tackles along the way to score the key touchdown.
It was Kaaya’s 50th career touchdown pass at Miami, third-most in the storied program’s history.
Miami head coach Mark Richt remained unbeaten in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. The former Georgia coach improved to 9-0 lifetime on the road against the Jackets.
Shaq Quarterman, one of the Canes’ three starting freshmen linebackers, picked up a fumble, caused by Trent Harris, and rumbled 18 yards to the end zone. Two plays later, another talented Miami freshman, defensive lineman Joe Jackson picked up another Jackets bobble and went 8 yards for the score.
It was the result of a Miami defense that stuffed the middle of the field, putting pressure on Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas while at the same time stopping the dive play – the first option in the Jackets’ triple-option offense.
Was that defensive effort so surprising? It shouldn’t have been; after all, the Canes came into the game leading the nation in average team tackles for loss (13.3) per game as well as scoring defense (7.7) and sacks (4.4).
But Thomas made the Canes work for it. His ability to throw the ball and the Jackets’ success at running wide, opened up Miami’s defense and allowed for some success in the third quarter.
That’s when the Jackets got back in the game. Thomas threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Dedrick Mills, who then added a 1-yard touchdown run that cut the Canes’ lead to 28-21. Mills led all rushers with 99 yards on 19 carries.
But it was Miami that proved to be the better team on Saturday, improving to 4-0 in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener. They continue to pass each test in Richt’s first season as head coach.
From the season opener with Florida A&M, the Canes have stepped up to meet the challenges of a 2016 slate that gets tougher with each week. Games with FAU, then road trips to Appalachian State and on Saturday, Georgia Tech, have enabled the Canes to implement a new system at a manageable rate.
That trend continues next week when the Canes welcome in Florida State to Hard Rock Stadium for their biggest task to date.
The Yellow Jackets must head back to the drawing board. After starting the season with three consecutive victories, they fall for the second straight game. They dropped a 26-7 decision to Clemson last week and are now 1-2 in ACC play.