No matter what transpires Friday night at Duke University’s Wallace Wade Stadium, be assured that the 14th-ranked University of Miami will play hard until the clock hits 0:00.
Nearly two years ago, on Oct. 31, 2015, that’s exactly what happened during an eight-lateral kickoff returned for the winning touchdown as time expired — setting off a national firestorm that resulted in the officiating crew being suspended by the Atlantic Coast Conference for what it deemed as “a series of errors” on that play.
“Oh my God!” is what defensive end Chad Thomas said he was thinking from the sideline as the play developed and Corn Elder ran into the end zone.
Quarterback Malik Rosier, who as a redshirt freshman got his first career start that day because Brad Kaaya had a concussion, was also on the sideline.
Rosier said former center Nick Linder “grabbed” him, and “me and Nick started praying.”
“And I remember looking at Nick, and Nick started crying,” Rosier said. “Then he started laughing. Then he started crying. Then he started laughing. We ran to the end zone. There was so much emotion going into that play. It was crazy because guys were on the field trying to fight the refs and we were trying to pull them back. It was just a lot. I don’t know what the actual call was. I know we scored.
“I really don’t think about it anymore. I’m trying to stay level-headed and just control what I can control.”
Rosier said he hasn’t watched the replay since about the time it happened. But he acknowledged that Duke, 4-0 and in first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division, “is going to be amped up to play. They’re probably mad about the last one we won when we were at Duke. … It’s going to be a fun game.”
The Blue Devils, looking to go 5-0 for the first time since 1994, are 2-12 all-time against Miami (2-0), which will open its ACC schedule Friday.
“It’s huge,” UM coach Mark Richt, who called the 2015 ending “a miracle,” said of the Canes beginning ACC play. “It’s why we practice. It’s why we have matt drills. It’s why we have everything, to try to win the Coastal and go play in that game in Charlotte, and then win it and see what happens after that. It means everything to us.”
Rosier will be going against a formidable Duke defense that is ranked second nationally against the run, allowing only 65.2 rushing yards a game. Among programs that have faced three or more Power 5 teams (Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina), Duke is second in the country with 296 yards per game allowed. And it is the first time in 42 years that Duke is holding opponents to a scoring average lower than 19 points — its current 15.2 being 17th-best in the country.
The Blue Devils also have already scored three defensive touchdowns and have intercepted seven passes.
UM will challenge that defense with the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense (46.5 points a game) and No. 11 rushing offense (285.5 yards a game), although those numbers are after only two games (Bethune-Cookman and Toledo), both at home.
Mark Walton ran for 204 yards Saturday against Toledo and leads the country in rushing yards per carry (13.04), but he hurt his ankle, didn’t practice part of the week and is being heavily monitored to make sure he’s completely OK.
“Coach Brown’s antenna was up on just watching him every single rep in regard to, ‘How did he look? Did he tweak it? Did he have a problem?’” UM coach Mark Richt said Wednesday. “We probably subbed him out just a little bit more in practice than normal, but not a lot more.”
Rosier is 15th nationally in passing efficiency, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 550 yards and six touchdowns, with only one interception.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Rosier, now a junior, said of the difference between him in 2015 and now. “The biggest thing to me is decision-making, controlling the huddle and offensive line. When I was a redshirt freshman, I really had no control. I was out there letting the line make the calls.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe was adamant two years ago that Walton, recipient of the third lateral in 2015, had his knee down on the ground and that the play should have ended there. On Wednesday, when asked whether he has “looked back” on the ending and felt he could have handled it differently, Cutcliff said that in that same situation now he would have called for a “sky kick — a short kick forcing a fair catch or us having the ability to get down under it running down the field.”
Cutcliffe said that “the most difficult part” of the 2015 ending “was walking in the locker room and looking at a bunch of crushed young people that I didn’t have an answer for.
“That probably will live with me forever.”
Friday: No. 14 Miami at Duke
Kickoff: 7 p.m.; Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.
TV/radio: ESPN; WQAM 560; WMEN 640; ESPN Deportes 990 AM (Spanish).
Favorite: Miami by 6 .
Records: Miami 2-0 (0-0 ACC); Duke 4-0 (1-0 ACC).
Series: Miami leads 12-2.
Miami injuries: Probable — WR Ahmmon Richards (hamstring); RB Mark Walton (ankle).
Duke injuries: .Probable — RB Brittain Brown (upper body); LB Ben Humphreys (leg). Out for season — C Will Taylor (leg).