Miami 45, Virginia 26: Takeaways & observations
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Ominous storm clouds hovered over Sun Life Stadium as fans tailgated prior to Saturday afternoon’s game between Miami and Virginia.
The Hurricanes, stumbling into the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal matchup on a three-game skid, got off to a fast start that quickly shifted to neutral.
A small crowd weathered a torrential downpour for nearly two hours, while Miami looked uninspired on both sides of the football for nearly three quarters, allowing the ACC's worst team to stay within striking distance.
The rain didn't relent until a minute left in the third when the sun peeked through the clouds, coinciding with an Allen Hurns touchdown that put the Hurricanes up by 18 en route to a 45-26 victory.
Here are a few thoughts and observations on a rain-soaked afternoon when Miami (8-3, 4-3 ACC) didn't play its best football against Virginia (2-9, 0-7 ACC) yet sent its seniors off with a win.
1. Defense makes adjustments
One week after surrendering a season-high 358 rushing yards in a 48-30 loss to Duke, the Hurricanes permitted 99 through the first quarter and 203 by halftime.
Virginia entered the game averaging 152.7 per game, while Miami allowed 172. 5.
Junior Kevin Parks finished with 130 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. Sophomore quarterback David Watford added 46 yards.
But the Hurricanes made their adjustments, giving up just 11 rushing yards in the second half.
Ever since the Oct. 26 Wake Forest game, third-down conversion defense has been an issue for the Hurricanes. Opponents have gotten first downs at a 55 percent clip.
The Cavaliers made four of their first six, including Parks' 24-yard touchdown run on third-and-6. But they converted just two of their next five and concluded 11 for 20.
Despite the yardage given up, there was one key difference between Miami's unit: takeaways.
The Hurricanes failed to force a turnover in losses to Virginia Tech and Duke. The last came with 2:05 remaining in the first half of the Nov. 2 game against Florida State when sophomore Rayshawn Jenkins intercepted Heisman Trophy hopeful Jameis Winston.
On Saturday Miami tied a season-high with four. The Hurricanes intercepted Watford three times -- twice in the first half. Senior defensive lineman David Gilbert also returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown in the fourth.
Sophomore Tracy Howard picked off Watford's first pass and returned it 19 yards for a score. Junior Ladarius Gunter corralled a tipped ball on third-and-4 from the Miami 20 and raced 81 yards. Senior Kacy Rodgers II caught a tipped ball in the final quarter.
2. Offense can't put it completely together
Seeing 45 points on the scoreboard can be deceiving.
Take into account Howard's and Gilbert's touchdowns, Gunter's long return and Rodgers' pick. Miami manufactured just 17 points without the defense's help.
Facing a unit that forces the fifth-most three-and-outs in the country, Miami's offense did so three times (one led to a field goal) by halftime and five overall.
The Cavaliers outgained the Hurricanes 235-112 with 23 more offensive plays through the first two quarters (483-304 with 39 more plays for the game).
With former Miami and NFL greats Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis in attendance, the current Hurricanes backs couldn’t muster much with the ground game.
The rushing attack entered Saturday with 214 yards and one touchdown over two contests since sophomore Duke Johnson’s season-ending injury. Through the first half it managed 22 yards.
Sophomore Dallas Crawford carried the ball six times for -5 yards and a 1-yard touchdown over the first two quarters. On the first drive of the third, which culminated in a field goal, he rushed four times for 29 yards.
As a team, Miami tallied 90 rushing yards on 25 attempts. Crawford (16 carries, 55 yards) upped his touchdown total to 13 with a pair of scores on Saturday. The longest run was a 16-yarder.
. Morris bounces back on Senior Day
Quarterback Stephen Morris didn't get off to the best of starts, missing badly on his first three throws and garnering boos from the small crowd.
Morris completed a pass to Hurns on third-and-10 on Miami's second drive. On the next play his quick toss at the line of scrimmage went to freshman Stacy Coley, whose speed sent him into the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown.
It marked Morris' ninth pass of 50-plus yards (seven for touchdowns) this season. He has achieved that feat in three straight games.
Yet Morris' halftime numbers were subpar: 5 of 12 for 90 yards and an interception by sophomore safety Anthony Harris, who collected his FBS-leading eighth pick.
Hurns and Morris connected on two big plays, including a 26-yard score, to extend the lead to 31-13 with 2:27 to go in the third quarter.
Morris finished 13 for 26 with 214 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
4. Lack of fan support
Paid attendance (announced at 44,732) was lackluster for the final home game of the season coming off three straight losses that sent the team from No. 7 to unranked in the polls.
Classes ending on Friday rather than Wednesday for Thanksgiving break didn’t help matters. The same could be said for the poor weather conditions.
It caught the attention of some of Miami's top recruits, including Miami Booker T. Washington’s Chad Thomas. The five-star defensive end took to Twitter.
"I done been to a Miami game and changed my seat bout a hundred times," Thomas tweeted. "That shows that all Miami fans on twitter, not at the stadium.
"I respect the whole team, them boys gotta play in a empty stadium and hear y'all bs when they don’t perform how y'all want them too."
His high school teammate and fellow commit, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, agreed: "yeah bra you see that smh."
You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.