University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes face three must-win games

The Hurricanes’ free-fall continued Sunday, but stopped just short of irrelevance — at least on the national level.

Coming off an ugly 42-24 loss to Virginia Tech, Miami plummeted 10 spots Sunday to No. 24 of 25 college football teams ranked by The Associated Press, and to No. 23 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.

The Canes (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) also fell from No. 11 to No. 23 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Miami, Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2), Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) and the Canes’ next opponent Duke (7-2, 3-2) all have two losses in the Coastal Division, making the Hurricanes’ final three games must-wins for them to have a viable chance at winning the Coastal and advancing to the ACC Championship Game.

But even if the Canes win out, they would need Virginia Tech to lose at least one of its remaining games against Maryland (5-4, 1-4) and Virginia (2-8, 0-6).

“I’ve never looked at it,” UM coach Al Golden said of the Coastal Division scenario, despite his yearning to get to the league championship. “To me, it’s all one-game seasons. The biggest thing for us right now is to learn from this and then get ready for Duke as quickly as possible. Obviously, Duke is playing really well.”

The Blue Devils had an exhilarating, come-from-behind 38-20 victory Saturday against North Carolina State, scoring 21 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes — 14 of them on interception returns by DeVon Edwards.

Edwards, a freshman, also had a 100-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.

Duke is now assured of its first winning season since 1994.

During a teleconference Sunday, Duke coach David Cutcliffe was asked if his team was catching the Hurricanes — coming off two consecutive blowout losses — at the right time.

“Certainly I’m very familiar with them from playing them every year,” said Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils haven’t beaten Miami since the first time the teams met in 1976. “... We’ve got to play much better than we have in the past to have any chance. That’s where our focus is lying. I really don’t think anything that has happened previous to this [game] makes any difference.”

As of late Sunday afternoon, Golden said he still hadn’t seen any of his players since the loss. “This is their day off,” he said. “Sometimes you get a chance to interact with them, but I’ve been locked down in meetings all morning. Clearly, we’re all disappointed, and it’s important that we don’t point any fingers.”

When asked, Golden said he intends to keep Stephen Morris as the lone quarterback, despite, he said, backup Ryan Williams “really improving and making a lot of progress.” He said there were five dropped balls, Morris had two touchdowns without throwing an interception and he averaged 20 yards per completion (two of Morris’ passes went for 165 yards).

The coach also said that “for the first time in two months [Morris] took off and ran for a first down on a key third down and kept the drive going. He looks better than he has, and I really believe that he’s close.”

Golden insisted his team won’t give up. The 21-point hole that UM put itself in Saturday, however, was tough to overcome, he said.

“It really made it hard,” he said. “Our guys continued to fight, but we made too many mistakes along the way. … That’s it. There’s nothing you can do about it but try to get better.”