That four-game losing streak is becoming more distant by the day.
Miami’s patchwork offensive line came through stunningly, its defense dominated and the Hurricanes defeated Virginia 34-14 Saturday to become bowl eligible and win their second game in a row.
“Our guys played hard and for the most part played well,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said, noting that he “never mentioned’’ bowl eligibility to his players before the game. “I just talk about playing hard. I talk about executing. I talk about securing the ball and ball disruption. I just talk about things that help you win a game, more so than what the game means.”
It was UM’s first victory since 2008 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, where the Canes (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had lost their past three games against Virginia (2-8, 1-5).
With Alex Gall making his first start at center, usual left guard Kc McDermott making his first start at left tackle and Tyler Gauthier making his first start at left guard, the Canes allowed only one sack and ran for 222 yards of their 450 total, the most UM rushing yards against any ACC opponent this season.
Defensively, UM held the Cavaliers to 289 total yards — 207 passing and 82 rushing. The Canes had five sacks, nine tackles for loss and forced three fumbles, with a fourth fumble coughed up without UM’s help. Miami recovered all four fumbles in the second half, courtesy of Joe Jackson, Trent Harris, Darrion Owens and Corn Elder.
Elder, Jackson and Sheldrick Redwine forced the fumbles.
“Execution,’’ said defensive end Jackson, a true freshman. “We kept stopping the run. We made them pass. That was a big part of the game.”
About the turnovers, Jackson said: “We happened to start clicking, and then one after another they came our way.’’
Virginia’s first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall, who came to UVA after a successful career at BYU, said the Hurricanes were “more physical’’ than he expected “on both sides.’’
“Their fronts controlled the game, so they were able to get some pressure on our quarterback, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be blitz, but they were able to run the ball with big sets,’’ Mendenhall said. “They have a talented football team … similar to what we saw maybe from Louisville in terms of talent base.’’
But the lines were just the beginning of UM’s diversified attack.
Freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards had his third 100-yard game Saturday, catching three passes for 100 yards, including a career-long 77-yard touchdown. Tailback Mark Walton ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
And quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 14 of 29 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns, with a strange interception on his first offensive play of the game that led to a touchdown. At first-and-10 from the UM 13, Kaaya lofted a pass into the arms of tight end Chris Herndon, who had the ball taken right out of his hands by star linebacker Micah Kiser.
Kiser ran down the left sideline into the end zone, sending the crowd of 39,867 into a frenzy. But the touchdown was called back because Kiser’s foot was out of bounds at the 18. The Cavs scored on Taquan Mizell’s 2-yard rush five plays later, giving Virginia its only lead of the game.
“I threw it, and I’m thinking, ‘Completion-first down, let’s get it rolling,’ ’’ Kaaya said. “It was almost like a glitch in a video game. I thought Chris had it, and I was looking to the sideline for the next play, and I see the guy running toward the red zone. Nothing you can do about it. Guy made a phenomenal play.’’
The Canes answered with a 75-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown rush by Joe Yearby. During the drive, fellow tailback Walton had a couple of outstanding plays. On fourth-and-1 from midfield, Walton rushed 26 yards down the left side of the field to bring UM to the UVA 24. Three plays later, Walton took a 13-yard pass from Kaaya and set up Yearby’s score to make it 7-7.
UM scored again early in the second quarter on a 40-yard field goal by Michael Badgley, the 18th in 18 attempts from 40 to 49 yards in the junior’s career.
David Njoku’s 7-yard catch from Kaaya later in the second quarter gave the Canes a 17-7 lead, and after a Virginia touchdown narrowed UM’s lead to 17-14, Badgley’s 44-yard field goal early in the third quarter put the Canes up 20-14.
“It feels great,’’ Kaaya said, breaking into a smile when he was asked about being bowl eligible. “But we gotta keep playing so we can get placed in one of the top-tier bowls.’’
UM travels to Raleigh, North Carolina next Saturday to play North Carolina State at 12:30 p.m.