The Miami Hurricanes have spiraled into a deep dive, with little time left to surface for air.
In a mistake-filled heartbreaker, the Canes lost their fourth game in a row Saturday, this one 27-21 to Georgia Tech, wasting another opportunity to qualify for a bowl game. Instead, for the second week in a row, the Hurricanes watched their opponent celebrate a bowl-qualifying victory.
“We couldn’t get a stop at the end, obviously,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said. “I’m sure that will wear on everybody’s mind. But I’m proud of our team. I know those guys will keep fighting. I know they care about their seniors. They’re going to act like men, and men are going to get back to work and fight their tails off for their teammates, and for their school and for their fan base.’’
Added Richt: “Three turnovers is bad news in a game like this.’’
The Hurricanes (5-5, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who lost three fumbles Saturday, are now 1-6 in their past seven games away from Miami. The lone win came at Toledo on Sept. 15.
UM redshirt freshman starting quarterback N’Kosi Perry had one of those fumbles, but still finished 14 of 23 for 165 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 38 yards rushing on six carries.
“I feel like it started in practice,’’ Perry said of his improved play. “I just felt more comfortable this week than any other week knowing what our opponent was going to be doing. I felt like it was clicking.’’
The Canes can kiss goodbye any infinitesimal chance they previously had of winning the Coastal Division.
And that undefeated record Richt had as a head coach with Georgia and Miami at Bobby Dodd Stadium? He’s 9-1 there now.
The Canes are now 5-8 overall in their past 13 games and 2-8 against Power 5 teams in their past 10 games. The last time Miami lost four in a row was in 2016 in Richt’s first season with the Hurricanes, who rebounded with five consecutive victories to end that season and 10 straight to begin 2017.
It might not get any prettier. Next Saturday, the Canes travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, for a 3:30 p.m. game (ESPN) against Virginia Tech.
The regular-season finale is two days after Thanksgiving at home against Pittsburgh.
Led by a valiant last-gasp effort by Perry, UM drove 95 yards on 15 plays for a touchdown, a 2-yard plunge by Travis Homer, to trail 27-21 with 6:53 left in the game. Perry threw for two first downs on that drive and ran for another two.
But Georgia Tech (6-4, 4-3) took over and threw its fourth pass of the game for a 22-yard completion by TaQuon Marshall on third down to give the Yellow Jackets a first down at the UM 43, extend the drive and end UM’s hope for a comeback.
Nonetheless, the Hurricanes held the Jackets to 304 total yards, 231 on the ground.
“It’s the small things,’’ linebacker Michael Pinckney said. “We held them and we played hard. But it came down to those little few moments that we’ve got to lock in and key in and play as a team. And we didn’t get that job done tonight.’’
“This is very disappointing,’’ added Perry. “The defense played a hell of a game, but turnovers and penalties, that hurt us big.’’
The Yellow Jackets had extended a three-point lead at halftime with a 23-yard field goal and 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marshall to Brad Stewart to take a 27-14 lead.
On the Yellow Jacket’s first punt early in the third quarter, a 54-yarder, UM returner Jeff Thomas signaled a fair catch and then muffed the ball at the Yellow Jackets’ 16-yard line. Georgia Tech’s Juanyeh Thomas recovered at the 10. On third-and-goal from the UM 5, Tito Odenigbo tackled Marshall for no gain, and the Canes held Georgia Tech to the field goal.
Georgia Tech led 20-14 with 11:08 left in the third quarter.
Then, on third-and-8 from the Miami 31-yard line, Marshall rolled out and hit Stewart to culminate a seven-play, 62-yard drive to make it 27-14 at 5:27 of the third quarter.
Georgia Tech led 17-14 after a wild, mistake-filled first half. A combined 17 points were scored off turnovers — 10 by Georgia Tech following two fumbles (DeeJay Dallas and Perry) and seven by Miami after a Yellow Jackets fumble on a line-drive punt by Jack Spicer that bounced down the field.
The other Georgia Tech first-half touchdown drive was made easier by a fourth-down offside penalty on UM defensive tackle Gerald Willis, which gave the Yellow Jackets a fourth-and-2 from the UM 31-yard line instead of fourth-and-7 from the 36. That 11-play, 75-yard drive ended with Marshall sprinting 28 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-7 with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets made it 14-7 less than two minutes later on an 8-yard run by Marshall after Dallas fumbled for the third time in two weeks on the ensuing kickoff return.
Miami started the game with its first opening-drive touchdown since beating Toledo, and Perry looked strong on it. He went 3 for 3 for 60 yards, helped by two catches for 46 yards by Jeff Thomas. Dallas rumbled into the end zone for a 1-yard score to culminate the 11-play, 75-yard drive and give UM a 7-0 lead.
Georgia Tech’s 38-yard field goal made it 17-7 with 3:55 left in the half, but UM freshman Cam Davis’ first career touchdown – a 22-yarder – came three plays after the Yellow Jackets muffed Spicer’s punt.
The score: 17-14 with 50 ticks left in the half.