(AP) – There’s chaos brewing once again in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
This week, that comes in the form of Miami’s coaching change, which has stolen the spotlight from a division that was mocked recently for its parity but now has a logjam of teams at the top for a change.
The Hurricanes play for the first time since coach Al Golden was fired when they visit streaking No. 22 Duke on Saturday night.
Miami returned to the practice field Tuesday after three painful days. Interim coach Larry Scott led practice for the first time, and if the day wasn’t daunting enough, the workout was with injured quarterback Brad Kaaya absent and hours after cornerback Artie Burns’ mother died unexpectedly.
”We have their hearts and we have their minds,” Scott said. ”We can overcome anything if we stay together. And I think this group will.”
They are tested now, in ways that almost certainly weren’t imaginable.
The dominoes started falling last Saturday when Miami lost 58-0 to Clemson, the largest defeat margin in program history. Kaaya’s injury came in that game when Clemson rushed two defensive ends against five offensive linemen and still got a sack, one that means the Hurricanes (4-3, 1-2) could have redshirt freshman Malik Rosier backed up by true freshman Evan Shirreffs against Duke (6-1, 3-0).
On Sunday, Golden’s firing was announced, followed by a teary team meeting with the now-former coach who was revered by many players. Then on Monday, Burns’ mother was stricken and coaches – also dealing with the funeral of a staff member’s relative – gathered and kept vigil at a Miami hospital before word came that she succumbed.
”It’s been real difficult,” said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, a longtime friend and confidante of Golden’s. ”But we have a team, we have unity, we have everybody together and we’re all rallying together like we said we would from the beginning of the season. … Our No. 1 thing right now is we support our players and we support Artie and his family. It’s been a lot to deal with.”
Burns, Kaaya and receiver Rashawn Scott – also injured against Clemson – were not practicing Tuesday. Burns’ status for this weekend is obviously unknown, given his family situation. Scott has not been ruled out, and the Hurricanes have some receiver depth.
But not having Kaaya would be a massive blow.
Kaaya has made 20 consecutive starts for Miami and thrown for 1,846 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in 229 attempts this season. Rosier has completed nine of 28 passes for 66 yards with two interceptions in limited duty this year. Shirreffs has not made his college debut.
”For me to be starting because he’s hurt, it’s awkward,” Rosier said.
Miami’s final five opponents currently have a 23-13 combined record, and the team with the worst ACC record in that group at this point – Georgia Tech – just handed Florida State its first ACC loss since 2012.
”It’s so hard right now for us,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. ”But the relationships we have with our players make getting through all this possible. We derive strength from each other.”
The Hurricanes’ first opponent during that stretch is a Blue Devils team that has won four straight and is coming off a wild 45-43, four-overtime victory at Virginia Tech.
That allowed Duke to keep pace with No. 23 Pittsburgh and North Carolina in the Coastal, which wasn’t considered to be strong in the preseason.
Of 158 voters, only four picked Duke, four more chose North Carolina and three had Pitt first. Preseason favorite Georgia Tech is in last place. Virginia Tech, picked second, is in sixth. And Miami, the third-place pick, is in fourth.
”It’s definitely gotten more competitive,” Duke center Matt Skura said. ”Especially this year, I think a lot of the teams are feeling the pressure (more) than in years past to keep winning every single week. I think sometimes before, teams could know that they could get away with one or two losses and still make it to (the ACC title game in) Charlotte.”
The Atlantic Division seems to be more top-heavy with third-ranked Clemson and No. 17 Florida State. Behind them are five teams that have losing records either overall, in ACC play or both.
”This whole conference, especially in the Coastal, has been getting stronger,” Skura said. ”Hopefully, good things are still to come.”
Last week, Thomas Sirk threw four touchdown passes, the last one in the fourth overtime, and then ran for the winning 2-point conversion to give the Blue Devils the victory in the longest game in ACC history.
"I think he’s a great leader. He’s one of our captains, one of our two captains, and I think he does a great job himself," coach David Cutcliffe said. "They know how hard he works and how hard he has worked. He’s totally committed to his teammates. He’s a quarterback and it’s never about him. I love that about him, he’s a servant leader."
Miami leads the all-time series 10-2, winning 22-10 at home last season.