University of Miami

Hurricanes running game is rediscovering early groove

Miami running back Joseph Yearby (2) rushes during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. Miami defeated Virginia 34-14.
Miami running back Joseph Yearby (2) rushes during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. Miami defeated Virginia 34-14. AP

The University of Miami football team ran all over N.C. State’s vaunted rush defense Saturday, setting the Hurricanes up for a possible four-game winning streak to end the regular season.

Mark Walton has been rediscovering his groove the past two games and broke free for 120 yards and three touchdowns in UM’s 27-13 win in Raleigh, North Carolina, which raised Miami’s record to 7-4 and 4-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while lowering N.C. State to 5-6, 2-5.

UM, undefeated in November after a four-game losing streak in October, wraps things up against Duke on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, which will be the last home game for senior players. The game will be televised by ESPN2 at 3:30 p.m.

UM, which beat Duke on the road last year on a crazy series of laterals that became a YouTube sensation, is in line for a midtier bowl invitation. Coach David Cutliffe’s injury-depleted Blue Devils are down this year with a 4-7, 1-6 record.

Coach Mark Richt was ecstatic to see UM’s commitment to running the ball pay off against the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing defense.

“Sometimes you’ve got to chip away and then eventually something will break,” Richt said. “And you’ve got to stay patient running the ball. You can’t just abort the running game completely and chunk it downfield. That’s not healthy for anybody.”

Walton’s 24-yard touchdown run with 2:06 left not only secured the win for UM but enabled him to surpass 1,000 yards for the season. His other scoring runs in the second half went for 1 yard and 30 yards.

“There were a couple moments where I felt our running back corps missed a couple runs,” Richt said. “But they had the discipline of getting their landmarks and staying on it until you have to make a decision. All our backs found holes and creases pretty good.

“On the long runs, Mark did a good job of finding his blocks. He was hard to tackle and he finished it.”

Walton, a sophomore, had shown he had a nose for the goal line earlier in the season but struggled in losses to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame as UM fell behind and reverted to passing the ball. That didn’t work either as quarterback Brad Kaaya was battered in the quickly-disintegrating pocket.

But a patchwork offensive line has found a certain chemistry with Walton in recent weeks. Richt was complimentary of his front five, with Alex Gall again competently replacing the injured Nick Linder at center and Tyree St. Louis able to recover in the second half from an injury that sidelined him in the first. Kc McDermott, again playing out of position at left tackle, was flagged for four penalties but got his act together as the game progressed.

“We rushed for 129, which is not a gaudy number, but it’s a very respectable number against the No. 1 defense in the league in that category,” Richt said. “Overall we threw it and caught it pretty well. I don’t think we turned it over. That’s huge. That might have been the difference in the game also, the turnover ratio. I thought they were one of the best teams we played all year, really and truly.”

UM receiver Ahmmon Richards, who has superseded Stacy Coley as Kaaya’s No. 1 option, set the single-season freshman receiving yards record with 117 yards on nine catches for a total of 849 yards, breaking Michael Irvin’s 1985 record of 840 yards.

“I’m excited for him and our team and our fan base,” Richt said. “He’s an outstanding player and person. He took an opportunity and literally ran with it.

“Stacy has been targeted for plays,” Richt said. “He is still instrumental to what we’re doing.”