What started out so promising has deteriorated so quickly.
Miami, ranked 10th as recently as two weeks ago, lost its third consecutive game Thursday night to all but eliminate itself from Coastal Division contention in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
With UM’s 37-16 loss to Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium, the Canes head to Notre Dame a week from Saturday trying to save their season from spiraling out of control.
Miami (4-3, 1-3) plummeted to the cellar of the conference and is now tied with Georgia Tech and Duke in the Coastal with three ACC losses, though Duke still hasn’t won a league game.
Asked what he’d tell his team in light of likely being out of the ACC race, coach Mark Richt said this: “Continue to work hard. Continue to be loyal to your teammates. Continue to fight. And it starts with the coaching staff.
“… We were not able to execute well enough to sustain drives offensively. Obviously, we had very little run game. ... I think they tried to play as hard as they possibly can play. They are great kids. They are awesome. They are going to fight. That’s what I see.’’
Quarterback Brad Kayaa again was pummeled repeatedly, sacked a career-worst eight times Thursday as his offensive line failed repeatedly. Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1) had 12 tackles for loss midway through the fourth quarter.
Kaaya has been sacked 13 times in UM’s past three games. But Thursday, he just kept getting back up and fighting in front of 63,507 fans.
“There were times where I got sacked tonight, but there were times where I could’ve gotten rid of the ball and found a way,’’ said Kaaya, who sometimes hangs on to the ball too long. “Everybody hurts right now. But no one is putting themselves before the team. Guys are just ready to work and keep going. We can’t just put it in the tank. We still have five more games to play, and we still have to give these people a show. We still have to do our job and keep playing some football.’’
With UM down 30-16 and about six minutes left, Kaaya’s last chance to narrow the score at fourth-and-20 from the Hokies’ 25-yard line just missed when Stacy Coley’s foot was barely out of bounds by the end zone.
Kaaya nonetheless surpassed 300 yards passing, completing 23 of 38 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
But UM’s offense again struggled on third downs, converting only three of 15. Of 365 total yards, only 42 came rushing.
“I’m not really sure,’’ tight end David Njoku said, when asked what has gone wrong with the offense. “I know we just have to control what we can control every play, one play at a time, and see how far we can go.’’
Decimated by defensive injuries, including both starting ends, a starting cornerback and a key defensive tackle who stayed back in Miami, the Hurricanes allowed the most points they have all season. Coming into the game, UM was ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 14 points. They gave up 564 yards, 292 of them on the ground.
Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans completed 21 of 33 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He added 98 yards and a touchdown rushing.
Tech tailback Travon McMillian led all rushers with 131 yards on 18 carries.
“I just know all of us were giving everything on every play,’’ said UM freshman defensive end Joe Jackson, who had six tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack in his first career start. “We fought today. Tough road loss. Nobody is talking a lot, but at the end of the day we’re still together.’’
The Canes lost senior safety Rayshawn Jenkins to what appeared to be a right lower leg injury late in the third quarter.
Virginia Tech got on the scoreboard first, driving 35 yards on eight plays and finishing with a 47-yard field goal by Joey Slye to make it 3-0 with 10:45 left in the opening quarter.
The Hurricanes answered with a sustained drive that took them from their own 25-yard line down the field to the Hokies’ 36, where Kaaya got sacked for the second time in the quarter on third-and-seven.
The drive included a 12-yard catch by tight end David Njoku, who leaped over a defender.
But all for naught.