They have been mocked and ridiculed all season for giving up too many points and too many yards.
Thursday night, the Hurricanes defense finally put up an effort worthy of praise.
UM forced three key turnovers, popped and rattled Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and survived as the offense sputtered and wheezed its way through a 30-12 victory at Sun Life Stadium.
Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) produced 24 first downs, ran for 222 yards and controlled the clock nearly 2-1 entering the fourth quarter. But the Canes, who lost starting safety Deon Bush to an injury before halftime and then linebacker Denzel Perryman to a bum ankle in the second half, didnt relent as tired as it was.
I felt like we grew up," UM coach Al Golden said. Holding them to 12 points is significant without Denzel and Deon. Im really proud of their effort. Some of the young guys arent young anymore. The kids responded.
A year ago in Blacksburg, Va., Thomas broke the Canes hearts when he had a 19-yard scoring run through the teeth of UMs defense with under a minute to play. Thursday, Thomas escaped on a similar play when the defense parted and he found nothing but free space on a 73-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
It looked like he started here and ended up in Coral Gables, Golden said of Thomas run. Our [middle linebacker] fell down, and it just opened up. We werent where we needed to be.
The score trimmed UMs lead to 14-9. But it didnt break the Canes back.
Virginia Tech had three drives reach inside the Hurricanes 5-yard line. Two ended in short field goals by Cody Journell in the first half. In the third quarter, Thomas drove the Hokies to the UM 1-yard line. But on third-and-goal he fumbled the snap at the UM 1-yard line. Defensive tackle Luther Robinson emerged from the pile with the ball at the 3-yard line.
Cornerback Ladarius Gunter intercepted Thomas in the first quarter, and Jimmy Gaines had an interception in the fourth quarter.
Virginia Tech produced 421 yards of total offense on 82 plays. The only time UMs defense performed better? When they gave up 419 yards in a 42-36 overtime win at Georgia Tech.
Freshman tailback Duke Johnson, slowed by a turf toe injury over the past three weeks, responded with several explosive plays, including an 81-yard kickoff return to set up UMs second touchdown and then a 65-yard run to setup a Jake Wieclaw field goal late in the first half.
Johnson finished with 99 yards rushing on 12 attempts, including a 7-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to ice the game. Johnson had 96 combined rushing yards over his three previous games.
Bush had a head-snapping hit on Hokies tailback J.C. Holeman late in the first half. It was a helmet-to-helmet hit, and Golden was irate when officials flagged Bush for a personal foul on the play.
Bush went to the bench afterward with an apparent stinger. He didnt return and was held out the rest of the game as a precautionary measure.
Three plays later, the Canes lost their other starting safety Kacy Rodgers when he chased Thomas out of bounds. Rodgers fell awkwardly on his right shoulder and was examined by trainers. But Rodgers returned in the second half.
Defensive tackle Curtis Porter saw his first action of the season and it was extensive. Porter had an appendectomy during camp and returned to practice three weeks ago.