Trailing 16-10 at the half and not knowing the health status of its No. 1 running back and top offensive weapon, the University of Miami probably thought it was caught in a “bizarro world”.
Whatever happened in the locker room at halftime was just what the doctor ordered as the No. 14 Hurricanes scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to rally back and hold on for a 52-30 win over visiting Toledo Saturday in front of 49,361 fans at Hard Rock Stadium.
Trailing 38-16, Toledo (3-1) made things interesting when it cut into Miami’s lead by going on a 14-point run of its own – thanks a Malik Rosier interception and a pair of Logan Woodside touchdown passes.
After the Rockets made it 38-30, UM responded with a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive – capped off by a 23-yard Rosier touchdown run – and tacked on another score (a 15-yard Travis Homer run) with 2:30 left to cement the final 52-30 margin.
Having to shake off the rust from not having any football activity for 10 days and not playing a game in three weeks thanks to Hurricane Irma put the Canes behind the proverbial eight ball Saturday.
Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said he was just thankful that his team came out on top Saturday.
“Well that was enough drama for three weeks of football,” Richt joked.
“Mostly I’m thankful for the victory – and I’m usually that way anyway – but this one in particular, I’m a bit more than normal. We’ve been through a lot. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for a lot of us. So many things happened…and we just had to figure out a way.”
The Hurricanes practiced in Orlando at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex this past week, as a way to refocus the team after the football-less hiatus.
“The weather [in Orlando] tricked us a bit, and we thought the guys were okay condition wise. But is showed today that we weren’t in the football shape that we should be this time of year. Things got out of hand in the first half – [Toledo] ran more plays than us, they possessed the ball more than us – and we had to just fight through some things and turn things around.”
The big thing for Miami (2-0), which opens ACC play next week when it travels to play Duke on Sept. 29, though is the health of running back Mark Walton.
It was Walton who sparked the Canes’ early 10-0 lead – breaking the seal on the game with a 44-yard touchdown scamper on UM’s first offensive drive and setting up a Michael Badgley field goal with an 82-yard run (a new career long).
Fans held their breath when Walton stayed down after a short carry, writing in pain. It appeared that someone either stepped on or fell on Walton’s left ankle, forcing him to leave the game while his team trailed 16-10.
After the game, Walton said he “rolled” his ankle but also said that he was in severe pain and was unsure of how serious it was.
“That was my first time feeling that kind of pain…to be honest I didn’t think I was going to go back into the game. A lot of stuff started going through my mind, I thought it was my last play of this year,” Walton confessed. “I got frustrated on the sideline, I started crying a little bit, but I just trusted the [medical staff]. They tried different taping styles, different cleats…the last one ended up working to get me back out there.”
“I knew I had to get back out there because I didn’t want to let my team down. I’m one of the leaders of the offense. I felt like if I can try to go, I’m going to go out there and do everything I can for my team.”
What Walton did for his team was re-enter the game midway through the third quarter and rush for 67 yards on five carries in the second half – allowing him to finish with a career-high 204 yards on 11 carries.
The career day wouldn’t have happened if Walton hadn’t persuaded Richt to let him get a crucial carry in the fourth quarter.
“When I saw I was on 199, I asked TB [offensive coordinator Thomas Brown], ‘can I get one yard?’, he told me no. So I asked Coach Richt, ‘can I get one yard?’. He said ‘as long as you don’t get hurt’. Getting the opportunity to get 200 yards doesn’t happen often, so I wanted to get that one yard.”
Canes senior receiver Braxton Berrios, who also set a new career high in receiving yards (105) Saturday, called Walton “a warrior”.
“He’s a warrior, first off,” Berrios said. “I love him to death. And I know if he can go, he will go – that’s the kind of player he is. When he went down, it was obviously a scare. But he came back and he had a tremendous game.”
While Walton was out, Homer filled in and made a big statement towards his ability to be a “rope holder” whenever Walton leaves the game.
Homer gave UM the lead – that it wouldn’t relinquish again – when he capped an 8-play, 91-yard drive with a powerful 12-yard scamper – with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy product finished the game with 78 total yards (32 rushing and 46 receiving) and two touchdowns.
Finding A Way
Fatigue was an issue for Miami Saturday – especially on defense.
With the lack of activity, the typical heat and humidity of South Florida and Toledo’s consistent converting on third downs – UM’s defense looked subpar at times Saturday.
Having given up nearly 300 total offensive yards in the first half, Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had one message for his unit at halftime.
“He came in and wrote on the board ‘we’re going to win this game’,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said.
“I think [Toledo] came in here with a ‘we’re going to shock the world’ attitude and when they had that 16-10 lead at halftime I think they thought they had done that. “But little do they know, we don’t stop. We’re not going to stop until the clock has all zeroes in the fourth quarter.”
The kept trying to contain Toldeo’s star senior quarterback Logan Woodside. UM did all it could to pressure Woodside, but he still found throwing lanes and ended up with 342 passing yards and three touchdowns while completing 28 of 48 passes with no turnovers.
Rosier ended up putting up comparable numbers to the highly touted Woodside. Rosier completed 27 of his 36 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns along with his fourth-quarter rushing touchdown.
Herndon caught a game-high eight passes for 65 yards and Dayall Harris had a 10-yard catch that he grabbed over the outstretched hands of a Toledo defender which gave Miami a 24-16 lead with 0:20 left in the third quarter.
After the slow start in the first half, Miami ended up outgaining the Rockets 587 to 429, despite losing the time of possession battle 35 minutes to 23.
Richt said the difference after halftime was simple.
“We just executed better,” Richt said. “We got drives started and our line protected well and we stayed aggressive…we knew those guys [Toledo] could score, so we wanted to keep our tempo up because that’s what was working for us.”