MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—The weather in South Beach was not kind to Duke Saturday evening, but that did not stop the Blue Devils from lighting up the field as it poured down on Hard Rock Stadium.
Duke ended its two-game losing streak by defeating Miami 20-12 on the Hurricanes’ home turf, securing bowl eligibility for the sixth time in the last seven years. It was also the Blue Devils' first win at Miami since 1976 and their first overall against the Hurricanes since 2013.
“I just got to compliment our squad and our assistant coaches for consistent and courageous effort in a very tough circumstance,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Miami’s got an outstanding football team, we all know that, and they fought hard and we fought hard. That was kind of an old fashioned mud game and we were fortunate to pull it out and get the win there in the fourth quarter.”
It looked as though Duke (6-3, 2-3 in the ACC) had quickly bounced back from its disappointing loss to Pittsburgh a week ago, with a 75-yard touchdown on the ground by sophomore Deon Jackson on the Blue Devils’ first play from scrimmage. However, poor weather coupled with bad mental mistakes cost Duke the lead as it entered the locker room at halftime.
It wasn’t until the end of the third quarter that the Blue Devils were able to find its rhythm and take control of the game.
Though Duke’s special teams unit has not had the best track record this season, against Miami (5-4, 2-3), the unit played a big role in keeping the game as close as it was. Redshirt junior Joe Giles-Harris, who finished with a team-leading 12 total tackles, blocked the Hurricanes' late third quarter field goal to stop Miami from going up by five points. Soon after, the Blue Devils put together a nine-play, 65-yard drive ending in a jump-pass touchdown caught by redshirt senior Daniel Helm from backup quarterback Quentin Harris, which put Duke up 17-12, its first lead since the beginning of the second quarter.
The constant downpour transformed Hard Rock Stadium’s field into a slip ‘n slide early on, making it harder for the Blue Devil front six to keep up with the Hurricanes' speed in the first half. On the second Miami drive of the second quarter, Deejay Dallas, who finished with 124 rushing yards, sprinted 83 yards for a touchdown. Amidst the heavy rain, the Hurricane placeholder fumbled the ensuing snap, nullifying the extra point and keeping Duke in the lead 7-6.
"You can’t let those kind of athletes get started. The only way that you have a chance, is to attack gaps," Cutcliffe said. "You make a mistake against these people and it's gonna hurt you."
That lead would not last for long, though. After an 82-yard drive just three minutes later ended with a six-yard Miami touchdown rush, the Hurricanes grabbed a 12-7 advantage on the Blue Devils.
On the night, Duke continued its trend of struggling to contain opposing team’s rushers, allowing Miami to gain 300 yards on the ground for the game.
The Blue Devils also struggled to generate much offense, as the team only converted on three of its 16 third-down plays.
Nothing demonstrated Duke’s offensive struggles more than its inability to find paydirt after a potential momentum-swinging fumble recovery by senior Ben Humphreys on Miami’s 12-yard line. Duke could not muster anything but a three-and-out and a field goal by redshirt senior Collin Wareham to reduce Miami’s lead to 12-10.
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The heavy rain played a part in Duke’s offensive difficulties as well—Cutcliffe was forced to run the ball more than he probably would have liked, but Jackson, the main ball carrier in redshirt sophomore Brittain Brown’s absence, was effective for the Blue Devils, running for 113 yards and averaging 8.1 yards a carry.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair of miscues and mental errors by both squads, making it anybody’s game. The Hurricanes intercepted a tipped pass from redshirt junior Daniel Jones, but instead of scoring on the next drive, Miami fumbled the ball after one play, giving the ball back to Duke. The Blue Devils did not play a perfect game by far, but they did just enough to win their second ACC matchup of the season.
"We’ve got to play as if every play, as if every individual play is the play that’s gonna win the game," Cutcliffe said. "Where I come from, they feed a pig, and slaughter hogs, so you don’t get hoggish, you better stay hungry."
Duke will head back to Durham next Saturday to face Tobacco Road rival North Carolina at Wallace Wade Stadium in an early-afternoon matchup.