Ahmmon Richards makes his return to action in win over Duke
This time it didn’t take an eight-lateral, last second touchdown for Miami to conquer Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium.
This time it was wire to wire.
The No. 14 Hurricanes, driven by a strong, tone-setting first half from quarterback Malik Rosier, needed no late heroics Friday night for a 31-6 victory over the previously undefeated Blue Devils.
UM’s defense preserved the 17-6 halftime lead with a dominant second-half performance, and the Hurricanes (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) earned their first Coastal Division win in their ACC season opener.
Duke dropped to 4-1 and 1-1.
“I’m very excited about the victory,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said. “You go on the road in this league against an undefeated team, first league game, to get a victory. No matter how it comes we’re grateful.”
It wasn’t all positive for the Canes. For the second week in a row, star running back Mark Walton, who injured his left ankle last week during a 204-yard rushing game, went down with another injury to the same ankle with 7:37 left in the game. He finished with 51 yards on 17 carries, stopped by a potent Duke defense that came into the game ranked second nationally in rushing defense.
“Hopefully Walton is not too serious,’’ said Richt, who believes Walton didn’t roll the ankle, but just got it hit hard by a defender. “My guess is he’s going to be OK but he’s going to be living in the training room.’’
Added Rosier a few minutes later: “I’m not worried about Mark. He’s a warrior. I talked to him after the game. He said he was fine. ...He’ll come back fine. I think all the guys are amped for this FSU game coming up.’’
Next up for the Canes, who won their eighth consecutive game dating to last season: in-state nemesis Florida State (0-2, 0-1) at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in Tallahassee, where the Canes are seeking their first victory against the Seminoles after seven losses in a row.
UM’s redshirt junior quarterback, who made his lone start before this season two years ago in UM’s memorable, comeback victory, finished Friday with 270 passing yards and three touchdowns (two passing and one running) — though he threw his second interception of 2017 late in the third quarter with UM still up 17-6.
“Malik for the most part played well,’’ Richt said. “He did some really outstanding things...made some nice runs. Unfortunately, the interception, we thought Ahmmon [Richards] was open for a TD there and [Rosier] just overshot it. His two picks this season have been really good decisions and the ball just went too high.’’
After the interception — intended for All-American Richards, making his first appearance this season — Duke went for a first down on fourth-and-3 from the UM 43. But cornerback Malek Young broke up a pass play, one of his three breakups on the night, and UM took over.
Midway through the final quarter, Richards, who overcame a severe hamstring pull sustained in fall camp, had three catches for 106 yards and a 49-yard touchdown that iced the game with 11:02 left. It was his fifth career 100-yard performance.
“I’m fine,’’ Richards said. “I felt good. I hurt a little bit toward the end, but I’m fine. When you score a touchdown, it makes everything feel better. It was tough standing on the sideline, but team player, I root for my teammates and wish them the best. Finally, to get back on the field and being able to play again I feel I’m back in the rhythm again.’’
Rosier completed his first nine passes, and did not miss a target until seven minutes were left in the second quarter. After the first quarter he was 8 of 8 for 155 yards and a gorgeous 27-yard touchdown to an outstretched, racing Braxton Berrios in the rear center of the end zone.
“I think our tackle was stumbling and we didn’t protect well,’’ Richt said of that first touchdown. “But Malik hit his points, set up in the pocket and he threw a strike.’’
Said Berrios: “It was a beautiful ball. We ran a great play and he put it right over top of that safety. It was a gorgeous play.’’
Rosier finished the first half completing 10 of 13 passes for 180 yards and the score, and added a 1-yard rushing touchdown during a first-quarter series that included his 13-yard rush and 6-yard keeper to set up his plunge into the end zone that made it 14-0.
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones completed 21 of 41 passes for 166 yards, and all the Blue Devils could muster, thanks to UM’s D, were a couple of field goals in the first half.
Defensively, the Canes were led by Michael Pinckney’s career-high 10 tackles, one sack and an interception, tipped by cornerback Michael Jackson, that earned Pinckney the coveted gold turnover chain worn on the bench after the play.
“A couple of my teammates, they had the turnover chain before me,’’ Pinckney said. “I like Cuban links.
“I credit that a lot to Michael Jackson, he made a great play on the ball. I just hustled to the ball like we say every week, just being real. Practice makes good.’’
Also earning the turnover chain: lineman Pat Bethel, who recovered a fourth-quarter fumble.
Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman added nine tackles, and Sheldrick Redwine had seven.
The Canes tallied five sacks, with 11 tackles for loss.
UM scored its final touchdown on a 40-yard run by Travis Homer with 4:48 left.
Richt was asked if this is where he wants his team to be heading into FSU.
“Yeah, I mean you’re 3-0, 1-0 in the league,’’ he said. “We do have an extra day to regroup — of course we won’t get in until probably 3 or 4 in the morning. We’ve got a ways to go. It gets real hot in Tallahassee, so we’ll be dealing with that at a 3:30 kickoff. They got a game [Saturday] and we’ll be watching that and see what we can learn.’’