Calls for defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio might not quite die down after Thursday night.
But his Hurricanes turned in their most aggressive defensive performance of the season against Virginia Tech in pitching a first-half shutout.
Miami held the Hokies to minus-13 yards of rushing and just 36 yards of total offense in the half.
Miami’s defense improved from 89th in the nation in total defense last season to 22nd this year, trimming nearly 100 yards per game off opponents’ totals. But going into Thursday’s game, the Canes were ranked just 71st in the nation in third-down-conversion defense.
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The Canes defense had a strong showing in the 22-10 win over Duke on Sept.27, but in Thursday’s first half against the Hokies, Miami was particularly ferocious in squelching third-down opportunities.
On Virginia Tech’s drive, Raphael Kirby and Olsen Pierre ganged up on running back Marshawn Williams for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 to force a punt.
Jermaine Grace buried quarterback Michael Brewer for a 9-yard sack on third-and-8, necessitating another Hokies punt.
Defensive end Anthony Chickillo chased Brewer into an incompletion on third-and-11 on the Hokies’ first drive of the second quarter.
Miami’s ensuing drive was stopped just 10 yards into Tech territory, but punter Justin Vogel landed his punt on the Hokies’ 1 and the Hurricanes barely allowed Brewer out of the end zone.
Courtel Jenkins and Ufomba Kamalu each had quarterback hurries in the series of three consecutive incompletions and a short punt to set up Duke Johnson’s 24-yard touchdown.
On Tech’s next drive, Chickillo was back chasing Brewer down, this time for a 13-yard sack on third-and-8.
Old home week
Two current Hurricanes — one of them a former Virginia Tech Hokie — were on the field at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg during one of Miami’s most memorable moments in history.
Kevin Beard, UM’s assistant director of football operations, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Cols Colas both played in the Dec.1, 2001, game that catapulted the Hurricanes into the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
Miami defeated Virginia Tech 26-24 that day for an 11-0 record, highlighted by safety Ed Reed’s fourth-quarter interception at the UM 31-yard line to save the Hurricanes’ first perfect regular season since 1992.
Afterward, the Canes embraced one another at midfield, some in tears, jumping up and down and repeatedly screaming, “We’re going to the ship!” Most held long-stem roses in their hands or teeth. Beard was one of them.
“Yes, definitely the most memorable game,” Beard said this week. “It was the loudest stadium ever. They blocked a punt in the fourth quarter, scooped it up and ran it in, and I almost felt like an ant in the stadium. Everyone went crazy. You felt so overwhelmed like they swallowed you up — like, is this really happening?
“But after we won, it felt so good.”
As for Colas, he played defensive end in that game and was part of the nation’s 27th-ranked rushing defense. Colas earned his undergraduate and masters degrees at Virginia Tech, where he was an assistant strength coach before he came to Coral Gables eight years ago.
Senior wide receiver Phillip Dorsett came into the game ninth on UM’s all-time receiving list with 1,811 yards.
He needed 21 yards to surpass Andre Johnson’s 1,831 (in three seasons) and 81 yards to surpass Allen Hurns’ 1,891 (2010-13).
The Hokies, known for recruiting in South Palm Beach County, have four players on their roster from that area, including three out of Delray Beach Atlantic High: Luther Maddy, a senior defensive tackle who is injured; junior defensive end Dadi Nicolas; and redshirt senior quarterback Mark Leal.
The fourth is sophomore tight end Kalvin Cline of Boca Raton.
The Hurricanes drew support from 8-year-old Carter Hucks, who has been spending time with the team this season courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Hucks was scheduled for a bone-marrow transplant this week to treat his Fanconi anemia, but the surgery was postponed and Hucks and his family instead came to Lane Stadium from their home in South Carolina to watch the Canes play the Hokies.
Carter joined Miami on the sideline during its pregame warmup and was hoisted into the air as the Canes huddled up before returning to the locker room before introductions.
This and that
▪ Midway through the third quarter, UM defensive end Tyriq McCord walked off the field with an injury.
▪ At the end of the third quarter, UM defensive tackle Umfomba Kamalu left the game with an injury.