They turned over the ball four times and trailed for the first time this season. But the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes refused to quit Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
“You don’t have any leadership until you have a bead of sweat and the crap hits the fan,’’ Miami coach Al Golden aptly said after his Hurricanes rallied to remain unbeaten by opening their Atlantic Coast Conference play with a 45-30 victory over Georgia Tech.
“And that’s what happened. We had great poise, but it did look bleak.’’
The Hurricanes, who earned their fifth consecutive victory over the Yellow Jackets, are 5-0 for the first time since 2004, when they started 6-0.
“We looked each other in the eyes and said, ‘Nobody said this was going to be easy,’” said Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, who completed 17 of 22 passes for a season-high 324 yards and three touchdowns, despite admittedly playing with substantial pain because of the lingering bruise to his right ankle. “We understood who we were playing. Georgia Tech is a great team.”
Morris also threw two interceptions, neither of which resulted in points for the Yellow Jackets.
Trailing 17-7 after the first quarter, the Canes went on a 17-point run and took a 24-17 lead on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Allen Hurns late in the third quarter. Hurns had a career-high 108 receiving yards on four catches.
The Yellow Jackets (3-2, 2-2) pulled to within an extra point of tying the score on a 6-yard touchdown run by David Sims. But a bad snap by freshman walk-on Trevor Stroebel resulted in a shank wide-left by Tech kicker Harrison Butker with 10:38 remaining in the game.
The crowd of 47,008 rose in a joyous uproar.
Miami’s defense tightened in the second half, giving up just 158 yards, much of which came on a late 54-yard scoring drive that meant nothing.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman had 10 of his 11 tackles in the first half, and the Hurricanes scored 21 points off interceptions by Ladarius Gunter and Rayshawn Jenkins and a fumble recovery by Jimmy Gaines. They held the lead at 24-23 and never trailed again.
“We couldn’t have scripted a better start,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said, later adding that when his Jackets finally got the 6-yard Sims touchdown, he thought, “‘Man, we’ve got this thing tied up.’
“Not so fast. No we don’t.”
After the shank, the Canes drove 66 yards in eight plays, aided by a 41-yard pass from Morris to Stacy Coley. Running back Dallas Crawford scored his team-leading seventh touchdown of the year (and first of a two-touchdown day) on the next play, breaking the plane on a dive from 3 yards out.
Georgia Tech drove to the UM 38-yard line on the ensuing drive, but a fourth-down pass by Vad Lee was intercepted by safety Jenkins with 5:15 left.
Lee had two huge turnovers in the game, including a fumble inside the Miami 20-yard line in the second quarter, with Georgia Tech leading 17-7. Gaines had his second fumble recovery in as many weeks.
“We came out fast,” said Lee. “They just finished better than us. It’s real hard to swallow because they are a strong, fast team and they played four quarters.”
The Hurricanes, however, were not to be outdone.
Morris threw two interceptions and Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett each lost fumbles.
Johnson nonetheless had an outstanding performance, ending with 184 yards on a season-high 22 carries and 325 all-purpose yards.
UM won the toss to open the game and deferred, giving the Yellow Jackets the ball and an eventual 7-0 lead after a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 5:56 off the clock.
The touchdown marked the first time all season that UM trailed in a game — 362 minutes 56 seconds without a deficit.
But it took all of 32 seconds for the Hurricanes to turn that deficit into a 7-7 tie halfway into the first quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, tailback Johnson scampered down the left sideline for 33 yards. Then, at first-and-10 from the Georgia Tech 40, Morris fired a line drive that Dorsett grabbed in stride just before the goal line — the momentum catapulting him head over heels into the end zone.
Georgia Tech’s ensuing drive ended with a 45-yard field goal by Butker, and UM trailed again, 10-7.
This time, the Hurricanes replied with a Johnson fumble on their second offensive play. It was Johnson’s third fumble in two games after only one fumble in his first 15. The Yellow Jackets made UM pay three plays later with a 31-yard touchdown run by Charles Perkins. Tech led 17-7 with 53 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Canes proceeded to go on their 17-point run.
Miami has next weekend off before traveling to Chapel Hill, N.C. to face North Carolina on Oct. 17 in a Thursday-night ESPN game.