University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes can finally exhale with first win of Manny Diaz era — a blowout

The Miami Hurricanes finally found a way to win.

Despite a slow start, the University of Miami scored two touchdowns in the final minute of the opening half to help it cruise to a 63-0 victory and give Manny Diaz his first win as a head coach.

“Obviously very excited to get our first victory of the year,’’ Diaz said. “A lot of happy faces in that locker room, a lot of guys that have worked very, very hard for this feeling, for this day.”

Thanks in large part to running back DeeJay Dallas’ fifth career 100-plus-yard game, UM’s home opener at Hard Rock Stadium marked the Canes’ first victory since defeating Pittsburgh Nov. 24 in the 2018 regular-season finale.

Dallas quipped earlier in the week that he changed his named to “Positive Nelly” amid fan pessimism after an 0-2 start — then he scored UM’s first three touchdowns in the opening half for a 21-0 lead.

Dallas (108 yards on 12 carries), who might as well be nicknamed “Save the Day’’ Dallas, even changed his Twitter name to DeeJay Dallas/P. Nelly.

“We just want to put on a show,’’ Dallas had said. “When you step in front of me, that’s disrespectful to me, because I feel like I’m superior to you.’’

Canes quarterback Jarren Williams, who was replaced by last year’s part-time starter N’Kosi Perry at 2:45 of the third quarter, completed 19 of 24 passes for 254 yards and touchdowns to K.J. Osborn, Michael Harley and freshman tight end Larry Hodges. It was Hodges’ first career catch as well, and Harley’s first career touchdown.

Williams’ day included completions of 54 yards to Mark Pope and 32 yards to Harley. Pope led all receivers with a career-high 92 yards on three catches.

“I’m a winner,’’ Williams said. “I hate losing more than anything. To get that first win, especially for Coach Diaz, meant a lot to all of us.’’

Perry completed his first touchdown of 2019, a 2-yarder midway through the fourth quarter, to the true freshman Hodges. He finished 7 of 10 for 79 yards and the touchdown.

Tailback Cam’Ron Harris added a fourth-quarter 1-yard rushing score.

Even former walk-on Jimmy Murphy got into the act, scoring on a 4-yard rush with 2:42 left in the game and getting absolutely swamped by overjoyed teammates as UM was penalized for excessive celebration. The Canes didn’t care. A fired-up Murphy, who did a backward somersault in glee, earned the touchdown rings.

The Canes’ defense allowed only 137 yards, but the shutout was the D’s biggest accomplishment.

“Any time you get a shutout,’’ said Diaz, formerly UM’s defensive coordinator, “that’s a remarkable achievement.”

But offensively, Dallas was clearly the catalyst.

Dallas’ first touchdown was on a 1-yard run with 10:54 left in the opening quarter. His next score was on a 51-yard sprint down the left sideline at 11:25 in the second quarter. His third touchdown, another 1-yard plunge, culminated a seven-play drive with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.

“He’s a guy that you want to build the identity of your offense around,’’ Diaz said. “When I think of the Miami Hurricanes on offense you think of some hard-running, downhill great tailbacks and I think DeeJay wants to be in that legacy. He aspires to be one of those type guys.”

Three plays later, the Canes set up for the kill when fifth-year senior Robert Knowles, who got his second career start Saturday at safety, earned his first turnover chain after his first career fumble recovery on a strip by cornerback Trajan Bandy.

Knowles, a Miami Edison grad who over the past couple of years had been the object of mean-spirited social media posts for sometimes allowing critical plays, leaped on the UM bench, his arms raised and his fingers beckoning the fans. The announced crowd of 52,036 roared its approval, and Diaz, who said he was “really’’ happy, pumped his fists in jubilation.

“Robert was the captain of our football team today,’’ noted Diaz, who said Knowles “made an outstanding play on the kickoff right before halftime, ran down there and probably made biggest hit of the first half. He had a great game whether he got the turnover or not.”

Most thought this would be a blowout early, but the onslaught took a bit to develop, the Canes even drawing boos at least twice.

UM only came away with seven points in its first four drives, was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 and Bubba Baxa missed wide right on a 30-yard field-goal attempt.

Said Dallas: “We practice to start fast and we didn’t start fast. That’s been one of our key points that we needed to focus on. Today we didn’t start as fast as we wanted to, but we ended up putting the first points on the board.”

Propelled by his positive outlook, Dallas thrives on helping the team.

“It’s never about me, but I still have a lot of improvement I need to make,’’ he said. “Once I do make that improvement, our offense will move better. Because if you have an efficient running game, it makes the passing game better. I try to be the spark and I pride myself on trying to get the offense jump-started.”

Diaz said he knew the game wouldn’t be easy at the start.

“We thought it would be difficult,’’ the coach said. “We talked before the game about dealing with the adversity of expectation and how you go about winning a game and feeling the pressure if there are some struggles early on. And you could sort of sense that with our guys — guys maybe pressing... Once we settled down and just played the game, especially coming out after halftime, I thought we relaxed [and] played a lot better.”

The Canes return to Hard Rock next Saturday to continue their five-game homestand with a 4 p.m. matchup with Central Michigan. After that come ACC rival Virginia Tech on Oct. 5, ACC Coastal Division favorite Virginia on Friday night, Oct. 11, and Georgia Tech on Oct. 19.

The next time Miami plays on the road will be Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh.

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