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Miami Football: Top 10 wins under Richt

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Ranking the best of Mark Richt at Miami

Mark Richt and quarterback N’Kosi Perry combined to make the list on more than one occasion.
Todd Forrest/SOTU

Coming off my first two articles, with many more on the way, I’ve decided to toss my hat into the ring of list-making before diving back into the upcoming football season. If The State of the U were a college baseball schedule, then consider this piece my first midweek non-con.

I’ll begin with Miami’s latest boss and work back through Howard Schnellenberger. Before that? We’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. As for these lists, all regular season and bowl wins are considered. They are gauged on a variety of parameters, including, but not limited to: Rivalry games, rankings of both teams (before and after), conference implications, national spotlight, public perception, game location and/or opponent, a flair for the dramatic and if it started or ended a streak/drought.

Here we go, let’s take it back three years and revisit 2016-18 and the high points of the Mark Richt-era.

NO. 10: MIAMI 51, PITT 28 (Nov. 5, 2016): Year one was a roller coaster, there’s no other way to put it. Richt opened with four straight wins before dropping four-in-a-row. At risk of falling to 4-5, the Canes trailed 21-20 to Pittsburgh in the second quarter. Late in the first half, senior quarterback Brad Kaaya would put Miami back in front 27-21 with a quarterback keeper at the goal line. And coming out of the break, the Hurricanes’ offense continued to roll, outscoring the Panthers 24-7 in the second half, en route to 534 yards of total offense.

Kaaya finished with 356 yards and 4 TDs through the air, Walton put up 125 and a score on the ground and freshman Ahmmon Richards pulled down eight catches for 144 yards. The 31-7 run propelled Miami to 15-straight wins and a No. 2 ranking a year later. Many of the games on this list were sparked by this victory that prevented a disastrous 5-game skid in 2016.

NO. 9 #25 MIAMI 45, APPALACHIAN STATE 10 (Sept. 17, 2016): Making his first road trip as head coach of The U, Richt traveled to Boone, North Carolina for the most hyped sporting event in the town’s history. Coming off an overtime loss at Tennessee, the Mountaineers were a sexy upset pick for many in the media. Unfortunately for them, the Canes weren’t having it.

On the first play from scrimmage, Walton went 80 yards for a 7-0, Miami lead. Leading 24-3 at the half, the Canes introduced the world to freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards in the second half. Richards would finish with 142 yards on 4 catches while Kaaya torched an overmatched App. State secondary to the tune of 368 yards and three scores.

NO. 8: MIAMI 38, VIRGINIA TECH 14 (Nov. 17, 2018): This might have been the closest Richt came to needing a win to protect his job. On the heels of four straight conference losses and at the risk of missing a bowl game at 5-5, the Canes delivered in Blacksburg, Virginia with 21-unanswered points to close out the game.

Leading 17-14 in the third, freshman running back Cam Davis-Harris broke loose for 42-yards and a score, then, Jeff Thomas returned a punt 51 yards, spotting Miami a 31-14 lead.

Davis-Harris tacked on a 16-yard touchdown run that made it 38-14 entering the fourth, while redshirt-freshman N’Kosi Perry, who was shaky on the road at times, finished a respectable 21-for-34 with 171 yards and two scores.

NO. 7: #14 MIAMI 35, GEORGIA TECH 21 (Oct. 1, 2016): The era of the Manny Diaz defense stormed onto the national scene during a noon ESPN kickoff in Atlanta.

Leading 14-7 late in the second quarter on the heels of a Mark Walton touchdown run, a pair of freshman showed the world that defense was no longer optional at The U. Under the previous staff, the Canes transitioned from the attacking 4-3 defense installed by Jimmy Johnson, to a read-and-react, 3-4 scheme, resulting in abysmal defensive rankings in tackles for loss, turnovers and sacks.

Down a score and trying to knot things before halftime, Tech was faced with 2nd-and-10 at its own 25 when QB Justin Thomas was swallowed up in the backfield by Trent Harris, resulting in a fumble that was snagged by freshman linebacker Shaquille Quarterman for a Miami scoop-and-score.

On the ensuing possession, Diaz dialed up the pressure and disrupted Thomas’ timing on the option-pitch. With the ball free on the turf, freshman defensive end, Joe Jackson picked up the fumble and went 18 yards the other way for another defensive TD. Despite a 23-7 time of possession disadvantage in the first half, Miami managed to take a 28-7, second-quarter lead, thanks in large part to Diaz bringing an aggressive 4-3 defense back to Coral Gables.

The Canes would go on to win their fourth straight to open the year and move inside the top-10 for the first time in three seasons.

NO. 6: No. 2 MIAMI 44, VIRGINIA 28 (Nov. 18, 2017): A Coastal Division title eluded Miami ever since the ACC split in half 11 years prior. The Canes finished tied for the division lead in 2012 but the Nevin Shapiro scandal forced Miami to self-impose a postseason ban that included the ACC Championship.

One week removed from dismantling No. 3 Notre Dame, the the unbeaten and 2nd ranked Canes welcomed the Cavaliers to Hard Rock Stadium for Senior Day, one win away from clinching its first appearance in the ACC title game.

After falling behind 14-0, Miami roared back to tie things up at 14-14. Virginia answered with a score before halftime and another early in the third to stretch the margin back to two scores at 28-14. Lawrence Cager made it 28-21 with a TD grab on the ensuing drive and Jaquan Johnson evened it up with a pick-six, seven seconds later.

Miami would roll off 30-unanswered in the second half to survive the upset bid, 44-28. Travis Homer delivered the nail in the coffin with a 19-yard rushing score with 94 seconds to play, overcoming a 384-yard passing performance by Virginia senior Kurt Benkert.

That would be the final win of the 2017 season for Miami as its 15-game winning streak came to an end one week later at Pitt.

NO. 5: #9 MIAMI 28, #13 VIRGINIA TECH 10 (Nov. 4, 2017): Miami took care of business against a ranked team for the first time all season, proving they were deserving of a top-10 ranking.

Coming off a narrow win over a putrid North Carolina squad, the Canes had loads of doubters in the media. After surviving near misses vs Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Florida State, many expected Miami’s luck to run out at the hands of the Hokies. That was until Homer ripped off a 64-yard scoring jaunt to open up a 14-0, second quarter advantage.

Down 14-3, Tech would make things interesting when they turned a Rosier interception into a 14-10 game during in the third. Rosier would get the last laugh, however, with a completion to tight end Chris Herndon that saw the big fella rumble 43-yards down the sideline for a 21-10 advantage.

Rosier put the game away with his legs, taking a QB draw 13-yards to paydirt during the fourth.

NO. 4: #17 MIAMI 28, FLORIDA STATE 27 (Oct. 6, 2018): Trailing 27-7 with under five minutes left in the third, Lawrence Cager won a fourth-and-goal jump ball in the endzone to ignite a 21-0 finish by the Hurricanes. As a result, Richt finishes his career 3-1 all-time vs his former employer thanks to consecutive come-from-behind victories in 2017 and 2018.

Perry finished with four touchdown passes, including the go-ahead score, a 41-yard deep ball to freshman tight end Brevin Jordan. Jordan’s score came on the heels of an incredible catch by Jeff Thomas, who went up between two defenders and pulled down a frozen rope from Perry for a 32-yard pick-up on a critical 3rd-and-10.

After regaining the lead, the Miami defense played lights out, allowing just 27 yards in the fourth quarter. They were also instrumental in the third quarter rally. Sheldrick Redwine and Gerald Willis teamed up for a fumble recovery on a safety blitz, and later, Michael Pinckney jumped the route on a tight end middle screen for the interception.

With 4:12 to play, Miami took over at its own 42 and ran out the clock with back-breaking first down runs by Trayone Gray and Homer, who dropped to the ground inside the 5-yard line instead of punching it in for six. Homer’s heads up play denied him the touchdown, but more importantly, it prevented Florida State from gaining one final opportunity to force overtime, trailing 35-27.

NO. 3: MIAMI 31, #14 WEST VIRGINIA 14 (Dec. 28, 2016, Russell Athletic Bowl): Miami had not won a bowl in a decade and entered Orlando as an unranked underdog. And for the better part of the first quarter, it appeared the Canes were just simply cursed in postseason play. Through 15 minutes, Miami’s penalties outnumbered its first downs, 3-0 and its penalty yards surpassed total yards, 24-19.

All-in-all, they were extremely lucky to be down only 7-0.

Early in the second, a Kaaya interception was wiped away by a pass interference flag, gift-wrapping Miami its first fresh set of downs. The drive would eventually stall but Kaaya and the offense found something. On the first play of their next offensive series, Kaaya found Richards on a quick slant that went for 51 yards and a touchdown, sparking a 28-0 Hurricanes onslaught over the next two quarters.

Scoring strikes to Malcolm Lewis and Braxton Berrios allowed Miami to tack on two more scores in the final 2:11 of the half for a 21-7 advantage. The lead grew to 28-7 before the high-powered Mountaineer offense cut the margin in half at 28-14.

Michael Badgley tacked on a field goal late in the third to make it a 31-14 game. But West Virginia would never threaten again as the Miami defense limited them to just 31 yards of offense in the fourth quarter.

NO. 2: #7 MIAMI 41, #3 NOTRE DAME 8 (Nov. 11, 2017): Hosting ESPN’s CollegeGameDay for the first time in 16 years, South Florida was the center of the college football world, and nobody relished the spotlight more than Richt’s Miami Hurricanes, who were playing in front of a prime time, national television audience.

For almost 11 minutes, the two hated rivals played to a scoreless stalemate. Then everything changed with 4:01 left in the opening quarter when Berrios hauled in a Rosier pass in the back-corner of the endzone and proceeded to pay homage to the “Catholics vs Convicts” chapter of the rivalry with his “handcuffs” celebration.

From there, the rout was on.

Freshman Trajan Bandy put the finishing touches on a dominating 30 minutes of football with a pick-six in the waning moments of the half and Miami took a 27-0 advantage into the locker room.

The Irish never threatened in the second half as a hard rocking Hard Rock Stadium crowd rattled a Notre Dame squad that resembled anything but a team many considered the best in the nation.

That 2017 season didn’t end on a positive note for the Canes, but for one night in November, the younger generation of Miami fans received a taste of the Hurricane glory days and what awaits if Diaz awakens the sleeping giant in Coral Gables.

NO. 1: #13 MIAMI 24, FSU 20 (Oct. 7, 2017) - An undersized wide receiver from Raleigh, North Carolina was elevated to legend status in South Florida; the Canes ended an agonizing seven-game skid to Jimbo Fisher’s Seminole teams and a pair of players who were once considered afterthoughts at their respective positions delivered what might go down as the “Play of the Decade” at The U.

Who remembers Labor Day 2005 at the Orange Bowl? The Hurricanes were the proud owners of six-straight victories over Florida State until a late special teams miscue forced the Canes to choke on a heavy dose of their own medicine. I clearly remember the pain of that 2005 loss. That’s why it felt so damn good 12 years later when Miami played the role of streak-buster. The replay of Rosier hooking up with the little-used Darrell Langham on a 23-yard, back-shoulder throw at the pylon with six seconds to play will never go out of style.

The dagger came 78 seconds after Seminole freshman QB James Blackman seemed primed Previewto etch his name in Miami-FSU lore with a touchdown pass of his own, giving the Noles a 20-17 advantage. Needing a field goal to tie, Rosier went for the win. The junior QB drove the Canes 75 yards, capped off with a connection that will go down as the highlight of both Langham and Rosier’s college careers. As for Richt, the former Hurricane QB dropped to his knees with his arms outstretched to the sky in what was likely the pinnacle of his three-year stint in Coral Gables.

RECAP: Both wins in my top-two could have taken the No. 1 spot, But what put the FSU game over the top? It was this one question: If you had to give one of those two wins back, keeping only one, which one would you keep? To me, the question was as simple as they come.

Up next we’ll look back at the biggest wins from 2011-2015 under head coach Al Golden.