The Miami Hurricanes can savor this one for a long time.
The Hurricanes defense had another dominating performance Saturday, forcing five turnovers against the No. 12 Florida Gators in an emotional 21-16 victory that signaled the final game scheduled between the teams.
UM coach Al Golden, whose Canes earned their first win against a ranked opponent since 2011, sprinted across the field to shake the hand of Gators coach Will Muschamp.
“It was almost cathartic, to be honest with you,” said Golden. “It was 26 months unleashed there in the last four or five seconds. I’m proud of these guys.
“You guys watched us grow. We couldn’t handle this setting a year ago.”
The setting: 76,869 rowdy fans — the largest home crowd in history for a Canes game at Sun Life Stadium.
And though the Gators and Hurricanes fans, known for their intense dislike for each other, were jawing during the game, the players took it to another level.
“We knew all week it was going to be a high trash-talking game,” said UM quarterback Stephen Morris. “I can’t tell you what was being said, but we knew we had to control our emotions.
“Let the play talk for itself. It was dirty. There were a lot of dirty plays, a lot calls that the ref obviously wouldn’t call and should have called. It was tough, man.”
But in the end, Morris, whose offense basically closed shop after the first quarter, walked away a winner as UM improved its series record to 29-26. Credit the defense for that.
Miami (2-0), which never trailed, forced two interceptions and three fumbles for recoveries.
“You can’t turn over five times and go 1 for 6 in the red zone scoring touchdowns,” Muschamp said of his Gators (1-1), who like the Canes, have a bye week next Saturday. “We moved the ball, had over 400 yards. We mixed the run and pass well. We did some good things at times, but bottom line is you cannot continue to shoot yourself in the foot and give someone else the opportunity — especially on the road.
“Just killer turnovers.”
The Gators generated 413 yards of offense, including quarterback Jeff Driskel’s career-high 291 yards and a touchdown on a 22-of-33 day. Driskel also ran for a touchdown. But he threw the two picks and fumbled.
Receiver Quinton Dunbar, a Miami Booker T. Washington alum, had seven catches for 98 yards, and teammate Solomon Patton caught six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.
UM, conversely, had a meager offensive output. The Canes’ 212 total yards — only 50 of them rushing — were the least for UM since a loss to Virginia Tech in 2009. Miami went 1 for 11 on third-down conversion attempts.
Morris completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception. Duke Johnson finished with 21 carries for 59 yards and the score. He was hammered all night by the Gators, and walked into the press conference with a slight limp.
“They’re physical from the first quarter to the fourth quarter,” Johnson said.
Despite UM’s lack of firepower, the Gators couldn’t overcome their sloppiness.
Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman made 13 tackles from all over the field and forced the fumble that led to the Canes’ first touchdown.
Miami cornerback Tracy Howard, who nearly went to Florida, made his first career interception with 6:41 remaining and the Gators driving from the UM 17.
When UM couldn’t score, UF took over on its 14 with 5:28 left. Then, with 4:43 remaining, outside linebacker/rush end Tyriq McCord sacked and forced Driskel to fumble. McCord recovered at the Gators’ 4-yard line.
UM subsequently scored on a 2-yard run by Johnson to go up 21-9 with 3:29 left.
Florida came right back with its 21-yard scoring strike to Patton with 2:08 remaining on a four-play drive that covered 60 yards.
UF trailed 21-16.
The Gators tried for an onside kick, but UM’s A.J. Highsmith recovered. After an unsuccessful drive, the Canes were aided by an Anthony Chickillo sack with time running out.
The Hurricanes jumped to a 14-6 lead in the first quarter, but the Gators soon put the chomp on them – and had Miami clinging to its lead. UF had the ball for 12 minutes 22 seconds in the second quarter and outgained the Hurricanes 123 yards to 2.
Miami’s defense saved the Canes three times in the red zone in the second quarter. Rayshawn Jenkins intercepted a pass near the goal line; Perryman and tackle Olsen Pierre combined to stop Driskel on fourth-and-1; and Jimmy Gaines recovered a fumble forced by Thurston Armbrister.
Expect the Canes, who came into the game ranked 24th in the coaches’ poll, to be ranked in the AP Top 25, maybe even higher, on Sunday.
“It really doesn’t matter to me or this team,” Morris said. “Whoever is in front of us, we’re going to look at as a threat.”