Make no mistake about it; Saturday’s convincing 30-20 victory over Virginia Tech was huge for several reasons.
Proving that it hasn’t folded its collective tent after a demoralizing loss to arch-rival Florida State the week prior, Miami dismantled the Hokies in workmanlike fashion; keeping the wolves off of head coach Al Golden’s doorstep for at least another week and thrusting the Hurricanes into the thick of the ACC Coastal Division race.
“We bounced back pretty well from last week,” said sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya in the post-game press conference. “We can’t worry about it, can’t worry about last week.”
Kaaya’s 296 passing yards (19-of-30) and two touchdowns were key in turning things around for Miami in Saturday’s must-win game. “I need every win,” Kaaya said. “We needed it badly because it’s the Coastal. It’s our first Coastal game, so just starting with the Coastal is huge and we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”
The Canes have no choice but to keep it rolling if they hope to keep pace with a surprisingly strong division. No, there aren’t any teams the caliber of Atlantic Division leaders Florida State and Clemson, but in addition to Miami, three more teams have emerged as Coastal Division frontrunners, emphatically throwing their hats in the ring for a chance at knocking off one of the two Atlantic Division giants in the ACC title game.
Two of those Coastal Division leaders are ranked in the latest AP Top 25 Poll and another received votes. The Pittsburgh Panthers, ranked No. 25 in the nation, have come out of nowhere to lead the Coastal with a 3-0 league mark. They, like No. 23 Duke (2-0) and North Carolina (2-0), which received votes, are undefeated in conference play and the threesome boast identical 5-1 records overall.
Under the radar, Pitt has quietly assembled an impressive resume, having already taken care of Coastal foes Virginia Tech (17-13), Georgia Tech (31-28) and Virginia (26-19). The Panthers’ only setback so far this season is a 27-24 heartbreaker to an undefeated Big Ten power Iowa team ranked No. 12 in the nation.
North Carolina is dangerous as well. The Tar Heels lead the conference in total offense, scoring 40 points per game and averaging 482 total yards per outing. On the other side of the football, Duke has been the stingiest defense in the ACC so far allowing just 9.3 points per game.
This doesn’t necessarily constitute a shift in power in the ACC but it does illustrate a concept that there are more than just two teams competing for the league trophy.
The Hurricanes (4-2, 1-1) are certainly within striking distance thanks to Saturday’s encouraging effort, and Kaaya remains focused on a goal of leading the program to its first-ever ACC Championship Game.
“I really meant what I said last week when I said I want to see Florida State again,” Kaaya said. “I really do want to see that game and I think everybody is going to co-sign on that. We said in the meeting we want to see Florida State again, but at the same time in order to do that we’ve got to handle business when we get a time, one practice at a time, and one play at a time. It started with Virginia Tech (Saturday).”