A “Kelly Tough” day ended with a Canes Tough victory on homecoming Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
Playing their best football of the season, the Miami Hurricanes blew out an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent for the second consecutive game to defeat North Carolina 47-20 and become bowl eligible.
In a touching halftime ceremony, Miami quarterback great Jim Kelly, who recently battled cancer and is fighting a staph infection in his bones, was honored by UM and the announced crowd of 51,702 — the green-garbed fans chanting “Kelly! Kelly! Kelly!” as the Pro Football Hall of Famer exited the field with his family.
The Hurricanes did the rest.
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“Finally. We’re doing it,” said UM coach Al Golden, who began by thanking Jim Kelly. “We’re playing better as a team.”
Miami (6-3, 3-2 ACC), still alive in the Coastal Division race, has an off week before it hosts Florida State (8-0 with a Nov. 8 game against Virginia) on Nov. 15.
UNC fell to 4-5 and 2-3.
“They whipped us, that’s all I can say,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “They came out and played a heck of a game.”
Once again, Miami dominated in every phase, with another amazing performance by running back Duke Johnson and a defense that struck hard and often.
After a 249-yard rushing performance a week ago Thursday at Virginia Tech, Johnson rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries Saturday, a 9.3-yard-per-carry average. He added two catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Johnson’s stellar day resulted in his passing James Jackson and Edgerrin James to become UM’s second all-time rusher with 3,080 yards. He needs 252 more to pass No. 1 all-time rusher Ottis Anderson, with 3,331 yards from 1975 through ’78.
Johnson, a junior, said that when he came to UM he doubts he would have believed he could come this close to breaking the all-time rushing record.
“Just knowing the guys that came before me,” he said.
Johnson had 172 of his rushing yards, including a 90-yard touchdown, in the first half. He came out for good with the score 37-6 early in the third quarter.
Tight end Clive Walford added six catches for a game-high 89 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
And freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who was replaced by Jake Heaps with 9:19 left, completed 11 of 17 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. It was the third game in a row that Kaaya, who was sacked twice, did not throw an interception. The Canes have won all three of those games, compiling a gaudy combined offensive showing of 994 rushing and 577 yards passing – 1,571 total.
The Canes rushed for 295 yards Saturday, thanks to the help of a patchwork offensive line that lost starting left tackle Ereck Flowers last week to a knee injury, and two right tackles to knee injuries earlier this season.
UM led 30-6 at halftime.
The offense, however, was not alone in its thoroughness.
Miami’s aggressive defense continued its turnaround with hard hits and constant pressure, tallying a season-high six sacks of Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams.
The sack producers: Denzel Perryman, Corn Elder, Deon Bush, Artie Burns, Tyriq McCord and Michael Wyche/Ufomba Kamalu.
UM also had an interception by safety Bush, who added a forced fumble (recovered by Carolina) to his bounty.
After rush end McCord had his sack, he immediately recovered an errant North Carolina snap during an attempted punt. Freshman running back Joe Yearby (104 yards on 22 carries) then scored his first rushing touchdown of the year to put UM up 44-6 with 7:12 left in the third quarter.
The Hurricanes held North Carolina, which came into Saturday averaging 37.4 points a game, to 258 yards of total offense — 6 on the ground.
The Hurricanes will likely take a short break before resuming practice sometime next week.
Players said they were looking forward to playing arch-rival Florida State, to whom they lost 41-14 in Tallahassee last season.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a great experience,” said Bush, who added he was “very excited” about the upcoming game. “We’re going into a bye week now. We’ve just got to work hard, do our job, get the keys for the victory and see where it takes us.”
Kaaya looks forward to his first tangle with the Seminoles.
“We can start planning already,” Kaaya said. “Miami vs. FSU, I always watched that game growing up and it has always been a big rivalry game. It’s an important game for us, it’s an important game for the whole fan base and it’s here in a couple weeks.”