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Miami receiver Ahmmon Richards tries to hurdle a Syracuse defender Saturday. (Source: Chuck Bethel Jr./Football Hotbed)

No. 8 Hurricanes Hold Off Syracuse, Remain Undefeated With 27-19 Win


It wouldn’t be this year’s Hurricanes if the game didn’t have some dramatic suspense.

For the third straight week, Miami fans had to clutch their pearls as the Canes saw their 13-point third-quarter lead evaporate down to just one midway through the fourth before Travis Homer rumbled for 33-yard touchdown allowing No. 8 UM to eke out a 27-19 win over visiting Syracuse Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

Desperately clinging to a 20-19 lead with just over six minutes left in the game, Miami (6-0, 3-0 ACC) went on a 9-play, 85-yard drive that Homer capped with the scoring run and the Canes defense sealed the deal on the ensuing drive – forcing the Orange (4-4, 2-2) into a turnover on downs and sending the 56,158 attending fans home happy.

Miami, which will travel to Chapel Hill to face a struggling North Carolina (1-7, 0-6) next week, struggled to put together a collectively solid performance against Syracuse – which had upset defending national champion Clemson a week ago.

While the offense looked strong early, it struggled late – with the same being said for UM’s defense.

Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said his team, which is enjoying an 11-game win streak going back to this past season and is the only unbeaten team in the ACC, still has some work to do.

“We found another way to make it really exciting,” Richt said after the game. “A part of the reason was [because] Syracuse is a really good football team. They are a better team than what they were a year ago. For some reason, we can’t find a way to play really good on both sides of the ball at the same time. We kind of take turns. It would be nice to be more consistent.”

“You become consistent offensively when you throw and catch like you should; when you convert third downs better than we have…we haven’t been very good [at that] at all.”

“We’ve just gotta continue to work,” Richt added.

There is work to be done, especially with season-defining games against Virginia Tech (Nov. 4) and Notre Dame (Nov. 11) on the horizon.

Miami jumped out to a 13-0 lead – thanks to a pair of Michael Badgley field goals and a 10-yard touchdown catch by Christopher Herndon – but it could’ve easily been a three-touchdown lead had it not been for Canes drives fizzling in the red zone.

Badgley’s first kick was just an 18-yarder after UM got down to the Syracuse 1-yard line but failed to reach pay dirt.

“We had opportunities to make plays and didn’t make them,” Richt said. “A couple dropped balls could’ve been two more touchdowns in the first half – and it was pretty evident. Some of it is ball placement, some of it is concentration and some of it is just good defense. We just have to do a better job,”

Miami’s offensive struggles manifested themselves in the four drops by sophomore receiver Ahmmon Richards. Richards, who had been limited the past two weeks with a hamstring injury and did not play this past week, admitted postgame that he was pressing and was overanxious to make plays – which led to the drops.

Richards ended up finishing the game with six catches for 99 yards, while Herndon had a career day – hauling in a game- and career-high 10 catches for 96 yards. Malik Rosier went 26-of-43 for 344 yards with two touchdowns – including a 48-yard strike to freshman Jeff Thomas to put Miami up 20-6 late in the third quarter.

Defensively, the Canes dominated Syracuse in the first half.

Miami was able to break out the “Turnover Chain” four times in the first 30 minutes of the game. The defense created four turnovers – all interceptions – as they held the Syracuse offense to just 137 total yards of offense.

Junior defensive back Michael Jackson earned the chain twice with a pair of interceptions.

Junior safety Jaquan Johnson and defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson were also credited with interceptions; however, Jackson was unable to don the “blinged out” celebration piece because he fumbled away his interception – which came on a tipped pass – and gave the ball back to Syracuse.

The four interceptions by Eric Dungey was a career-high just as his negative (-24.9) passer rating in the first half a career-low for the junior. Prior to Saturday, Dungey had not thrown more than two picks in a single game. While his passer rating improved in the second half, Dungey finished just 13 for 41 for 137 yards.

Where Dungey hurt the Canes was on the ground. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback broke out of the pocket – from pressure or by design – and ran for 100 yards on the ground.

It was evident that the Orange’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense gave UM’s defense fit – making it difficult to run in substitutions which led to fatigue.

Syracuse ran 93 offensive plays Saturday (matching its season-high) and rushed for 264 yards – thanks to Dontae Strickland’s 105 yards and Moe Neal’s 46.

Miami did a solid job stifling Syracuse’s top playmaker, receiver Steve Ishmael. Ishmael, a North Miami Beach High alum, had been one of the country’s most productive receivers (62 receptions for 802 yards and four touchdowns) coming in Saturday’s game – but was held to just 41 yards on four receptions.

Uneven performances aside, the Hurricanes continue to “survive and advance”. Because Miami remains undefeated, the team has begun to garner national attention and whispers of the team – which was voted to the ACC Coastal at the start of the season – being a possible College Football Playoff contender are starting to grow louder.

Sophomore linebacker Michael Pinckney, who finished with a team-high 9 tackles and 2.5 sacks, said after the game that “college football doesn’t want Miami to be good” because “they want to hold a great thing down”.

Why?

True or not, Miami can’t buy into its own hype. The Canes have to stay “woke”.


About J.T. Wilcox

J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist that has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" Blog and "The Baldcast" Podcast. J.T. Wilcox joined the Football Hotbed staff in 2017.

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