The Miami Hurricanes’ defense was under intense pressure to perform Saturday after allowing 343 rushing yards in a loss at Nebraska last week.
The Canes called the game against Duke the beginning of their "new season."
And in a symbolic restart to 2014, the Canes’ defense forced three turnovers – including two fourth-quarter interceptions – and held the nation’s 17th-ranked scoring offense to 10 points and six three-and-outs to defeat Duke 22-10 at Sun Life Stadium.
"They grew up a lot today," UM coach Al Golden said of his defense. "They played hard. They had resiliency.
“We didn't change too much schematically – we executed better, we tackled better, we made them pay when we ran our pressures and our movements.”
The offense, though at times ragged, had just enough firepower behind quarterback Brad Kaaya and tailback Duke Johnson to earn Miami’s first Atlantic Coast Conference victory of the season in front of an announced crowd of 44,559.
Johnson eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time since last Oct. 26 against Wake Forest for 155 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
“First off, for the 100 yards, it was a great feeling,” Johnson said. “For a long time it was 90, 90, 90, 90. Now it’s 100, so that’s great.”
Though the Canes (3-2, 1-1 ACC) once again struggled on third down (2 for 13), Kaaya completed 20 of 34 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns, including a 28-yard scoring strike to Herb Waters on fourth down to make it 16-7 early in the third quarter.
“We’re playing each and every down for this family, this team, this program,” Kaaya tweeted after the game.
Defensively, UM held the Blue Devils (4-1, 0-1) to 264 yards — 85 of those rushing — and a combined two-of-19 on third and fourth downs.
The Canes iced the victory with a 47-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Kaaya to Joe Yearby for the final margin of victory.
“I was nervous, hoping that I would catch it,’’ Yearby said. “But I had confidence in myself.’’
The fourth quarter UM interceptions were made by cornerback Ladarius Gunter and linebacker Denzel Perryman.
The Blue Devils kicked a 33-yard field goal to make it 16-10 with 3:57 left in the third quarter. The points came seven plays after UM receiver Malcolm Lewis fumbled the ball after a catch, and Duke cornerback Breon Borders recovered.
For the fourth consecutive week, the Hurricanes – on Saturday clad in their gray, "smoke" uniforms – got off to a searing start by scoring on their opening possession. The Canes have registered points within five minutes of each of those kickoffs, this time in just under four minutes.
Once again, Kaaya dazzled early, completing four of five passes for 38 yards. But on third-and-2 from the 12, an incomplete pass intended for Dorsett forced the Canes to go for a 29-yard field goal, which freshman Michael Badgley hit to put UM up 3-0 at 11:01.
The UM defense forced Duke to punt after the Blue Devils gained only 3 yards on their first possession, and the Canes were at it again.
On first-and-10 from the UM 24, Kaaya lofted a perfectly timed deep pass to Stacy Coley in stride at about the Duke 30-yard line – but it dropped through Coley’s outstretched hands like a basketball swishing through the net.
The play didn’t deter Kaaya, who completed passes of 11 yards to Clive Walford, 10 yards to Herb Waters, 15 yards to Malcolm Lewis, 6 yards to Duke Johnson and 12 yards to Walford. At first-and-goal from the Duke 7, Johnson plowed through the defense for a touchdown.
Badgley missed his second extra point of the season, however, and UM led 9-0.
After the first quarter, UM had 173 total yards and Kaaya had completed 11 of 16 passes for 108 of them – including the drop by Coley and another drop by Johnson.
The second quarter wasn’t as kind to Kaaya and the Canes, as the freshman quarterback completed two of seven passes for 11 yards. His defense gave up a 7-yard touchdown run to Shaquille Powell with 11:22 left in the first half to culminate a 6-play, 73-yard drive, and the Canes led by only two points, 9-7.
What could have given Miami a bit more breathing room was ruled an incomplete pass rather than a touchdown catch by Phillip Dorsett late in the second quarter. On third-and-6 from the Duke 35, Kaaya hit Dorsett in stride in the end zone, and Dorsett’s right foot was clearly in bounds. But officials ruled the pass incomplete, likely because they thought he bobbled the ball.
Badgley’s 52-yard field-goal attempt went wide left and the half ended with UM still up 9-7.
On a down note, Miami lost both its starting right tackle (Taylor Gadbois) and his backup (Kc McDermott) to left-leg injuries.
After the game, Golden disclosed that it was his wife, Kelly, who was hospitalized and later released on Thursday.