The University of Miami football team’s much-maligned offensive line had extra reason for concern going to Virginia without two of its most-durable starters.
But UM’s improvised front five recorded one of the unit’s most effective and airtight performances of the season in Saturday’s 34-14 victory.
Kc McDermott, who switched from left guard to fill in at left tackle, played with such aplomb that coach Mark Richt cited his versatility as the reason for the line’s cohesiveness despite the absences of Trevor Darling and Nick Linder, who had combined for 49 straight starts before they got hurt.
“The offensive line did a very nice job and made very few mistakes,” Richt said Sunday. “McDermott was the key to the whole thing. He did pass protect well. He has a good enough understanding of everything that if he performed well the whole unit could also.”
In addition to McDermott making his first start at left tackle, Alex Gall made his first start at center and Tyler Gauthier made his first start at left guard. UM’s dormant running game took off as Mark Walton gained half the team’s 222 rushing yards — the most against any ACC opponent this season. Gus Edwards averaged 6.2 yards on his 11 carries.
“We were pretty comfortable with who we were going to play,” right guard Danny Isidora said after the game. “We rotated people in practice, coach [Stacy] Searels rotated Kc and Tyler, so we were comfortable.”
The line allowed only one sack and quarterback Brad Kaaya was grateful. The pummeling of Kaaya was a major problem during UM’s four-game losing streak against Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, with 13 sacks yielded in the latter two games.
“It feels good to get in the pattern of winning again,” Kaaya said.
By winning its first game at Virginia (2-8, 1-5) since 2008, UM (6-4, 3-3) secured its eligibility for a postseason bowl. UM has won two in a row and plays at N.C. State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday before concluding the season at home against Duke.
Richt said he was optimistic that Darling (lower extremity injury) will return to practice and be able to play against the Wolfpack in Raleigh. Linder (shoulder surgery) is out for the season.
“Another key was that we really couldn’t afford to have another guy go down [on the offensive line],” Richt said. “They were able to keep their helmets on the entire game.”
UM’s defense was back in character, holding the Cavaliers to 82 rushing yards, harassing the quarterback and notching five sacks and nine tackles for loss. Corn Elder, Joe Jackson and Sheldrick Redwine forced three fumbles that dashed Virginia’s chances of a comeback.
“The turnovers helped a lot, too,” Richt said. “We kept being persistent and knocked a couple balls out.”
Richt said the defense “tightened up the screws” on pass coverage and “we were able to get closer to the quarterback faster.”
Richt praised freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards, who slipped a tackle on his way to scoring on a 77-yard sprint.
“He has been a wonderful addition to our team,” Richt said. “He’s helping us be balanced in regard to our passing formations. He doesn’t allow defenses to double up on Stacy [Coley] so it’s been good for Coley, as well.”
Richt also praised the resilience of his team, which has a chance to finish the season with a four-game winning streak.
“I just saw guys with a good attitude,” he said. “It was hard to hide those emotions; after the losses there were a lot of long faces, including mine. But once we got back to work the next day it was outstanding effort. Our job is to motivate players. We didn’t have to do as much of that as I thought we’d have to.”