It was 30 minutes after the Duke-Miami kickoff Saturday when news spread at Wallace Wade Stadium that underdog Maryland had defeated Virginia Tech to put the Hurricanes right back in the thick of the Atlantic Coast Conference title race.
The task seemed simple enough for the No. 24 Hurricanes: defeat a Duke team that the Canes had conquered nine consecutive times, thereby giving themselves a shot to win their final two games and the Coastal Division.
But someone forgot to tell the UM defense, which once again evaporated in the Hurricanes’ third loss in a row.
Duke scored 20 unanswered points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, to win its sixth consecutive game and defeat the Hurricanes 48-30, effectively taking Miami out of the ACC championship-game picture.
The Blue Devils generated 543 yards of offense – 358 of those rushing.
“It’s fair to say we’re evaluating every component, every step of the way,” said a dejected UM coach Al Golden. “That includes defense. There’s enough blame to go around in this game. We didn’t punt the ball well. We weren’t good on kickoff returns. We had too many penalties. We didn’t answer – we needed to answer them on offense.
“It’s all three phases. The buck stops with me. I have to get it fixed.”
The only other time the Hurricanes lost to Duke before Saturday was in their first meeting in 1976.
Had Miami (7-3, 3-3) won its final three games, starting with Duke, it would have won the Coastal Division and advanced to the ACC title game against Florida State.
Now Duke (8-2, 4-2) has the inside track on the Coastal title. Should Duke defeat Wake Forest and North Carolina on the road in its final two regular-season games, the once maligned Blue Devils will head to Charlotte for an unlikely matchup with the Seminoles.
The Hurricanes’ offense actually outdid the Blue Devils’ with 565 total yards, though they could only convert five of 15 third downs.
Quarterback Stephen Morris had his fourth 300-yard passing game of the season, completing 30 of 49 passes for 379 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
Canes running back Dallas Crawford had 115 yards on 19 carries, a 6.1-yard-per-carry average.
Receiver Herb Waters added 116 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches, with senior Allen Hurns catching eight passes for 107 yards.
But no matter how much Miami generated, its defense would go right back out and surrender points to the delight of the 30,044 at Wallace Wade. The Hurricanes just couldn’t handle Duke’s rotating quarterback tandem of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette.
Connette was responsible for five touchdowns, four of them rushing.
“Our guys are feeling a next-level mentality,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “If you become a team that is fighting for something and you’re preparing that way, you don’t give in easily. When Miami did something well we found a way to answer it.”
The Hurricanes had no answers, and like the last few weeks, made tackling look like a foreign art form they hadn’t yet learned.
“Lapses in focus,” safety A.J. Highsmith said. “It just takes one guy everytime.”
Morris was asked if he could put his finger on why the Canes had dropped three in a row.
“I really cannot right now,” Morris replied. “I’m looking for that answer.”
Then Morris was asked how much pressure is put on the offense when the defense can’t make stops.
“I don’t think there was any pressure,” he said. “I’m never looking on any other side of the ball except ours. It is what it is. When it comes down to it, you need to score. We fell short. Give credit to Duke’s defense. They did a great job.”
Highlighted by freshman Stacy Coley’s 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, Miami vaulted to a 10-0 lead before the Blue Devils took their first lead, 21-20, just before halftime.
As it started getting ugly, two UM players who stayed back in Miami with injuries – running back Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett – opined on the situation with not especially complimentary tweets.
“OMGThis is embarrassing,” came a Twitter post from receiver Dorsett.
A bit later, Johnson, home with a broken ankle, tweeted “This is embarrassing”
The Hurricanes return home to meet Virginia (2-8, 0-6) at noon Saturday for Senior Day. Virginia had the weekend off.
“It’s the seniors’ last home game,” Golden said. “It’s important to rally around those guys. They’ve been through a lot. It’s important that we respond.
“We have to get our minds right and finish the season. It’s my responsibility to get them focused.”