Miami opened their 2016 ACC schedule with a closer-than-it-should-have-been 35-21 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon.
As they are want to do, Georgia Tech dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 40 minutes during the game. The Yellow Jacket offense ran for 267 yards on 54 carries (4.9 ypc average), and created plenty of problems for the Miami defense.
Georgia Tech used a wrinkle to their flexbone option attack: instead of giving the ball to the B-back up the middle mostly, the Yellow Jackets continually went to toss plays and counter options get their players on the edges of the Miami defense.
After a stop on Georgia Tech’s opening possession of the day, Miami was able to jump out to an early 7-0 lead. Joseph Yearby scored on a beautiful 27 yard run on Miami’s opening possession to give the Canes an early lead.
Georgia Tech scored shortly thereafter to make it a 7-7 ball game. Their TD came on the first play of the 2nd quarter, which is noteworthy because Miami was able to extend their season-long 1st quarter shutout streak to 4 games.
After allowing GT to tie the game, Miami went on a quick, and explosive, scoring run. After a Mark Walton 14 yard touchdown run, Miami got 2 Fumble returns for TDs in a span of 3 Georgia Tech offensive plays. The first came on a strip/sack by Trent Harris and was returned 17 yards by Shaq Quarterman. The next came 2 plays later on a fumbled option pitch by GT QB Justin Thomas that was recovered by DE Joseph Jackson and returned 18 yards for a score.
Those 3 TDs, the last 2 scored by true freshman defenders, came over 1:38 of game action, and helped Miami quickly turn a tight game into a 28-7 score.
To their credit, Georgia Tech didn’t go away. The Yellow Jackets scored a touchdown late in the 2nd quarter, and backed that up with a touchdown midway through the 3rd quarter to close the gap to 28-21.
Needing to rally and respond to the suddenly tight score, Miami put the ball in the hands of their best player: QB Brad Kaaya. After a 1 yard run to open the drive, the Junior QB went 3 for 3 for 73 yards, hitting Ahmmon Richards twice for 43 yards, and capping the drive with a 31 yard strike to Stacy Coley for the score. Kaaya finished the game 13 for 19 passing, with 241 yards and the TD to Coley. He flashed his elite talent at times, but there is still room for improvement in the future.
The big story of the day, however, was the defense. Georgia Tech was able to move the ball at times, but every time Miami needed a stop or a big play, the defense stepped up.
Miami’s defense, utilizing a 3-3-5 or 3-4 alignment throughout the game, continued to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. The Canes ended the game with 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered (both returned for touchdowns), 5 pass break ups, and a game-closing interception by Michael Pinckney. They weren’t as outright dominant as they had been in the first 3 games, but the Canes defense did enough to stymie Georgia Tech in key moments, and helped Miami to a big ACC win.
It wasn’t easy, by any means, but this is a good win on the road in the ACC. Georgia Tech falls to 3-2, 1-2 in ACC with the loss. Miami continues their undefeated season, improving to 4-0, 1-0 in ACC with the win.
Having played against Georgia Tech annually when he was the coach at Georgia, Mark Richt improved his career record against the Yellow Jackets to 22-2 (FSU/Georgia combined) and a perfect 7-0 at Georgia Tech.
With this game in the rearview mirror, Miami can now turn their focus to next week’s rivalry game against Florida State. We’ll have more about that in the coming days.
But for now, Miami is 4-0 and 1-0 in the conference. Exactly like they should be at this point of the schedule.