By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer
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MIAMI GARDENS (CBS Miami) – If nothing else, Miami showed some resiliency Saturday.
Despite their already-decided fate in terms of the ACC race, the Hurricanes looked like a team not ready to give up on its season just yet as they scored 31 unanswered points at one point to spark a 38-21 victory over visiting Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon – guaranteeing UM a winning season and sending their seniors out with a victory in their final home game.
Miami (7-4, 4-3 ACC) forced four turnovers – two fumbles and two interceptions – and that was the difference because Georgia Tech (3-8, 1-7) was still able to amass 314 rushing yards thanks to its triple-option rushing attack.
Also, freshman running back Mark Walton scored three touchdowns Saturday – including a nifty 25-yard touchdown reception during the third quarter and two rushing scores, the second of which put UM ahead 38-14 with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter.
The Yellow Jackets, who have now lost three straight games, put an inconsequential touchdown on the board with just over a minute to play – a Clinton Lynch 3-yard scoring run to make the final margin 38-21.
Hurricanes interim head coach Larry Scott said that the takeaways were the difference Saturday.
“This is a possession game whenever you play a team like Georgia Tech,” Scott said. “You preach it all week, anytime you can get some takeaways and steal a possession or two; it’s definitely going to make a difference in the game with the style of offense that they run.”
“Hopefully you can put them in positions where they have to do things that they’re not comfortable with – and we did that today,” Scott said.
Miami’s resilience showed after Georgia Tech put together a 6-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a Broderick Snoddy touchdown run that put the Yellow Jackets ahead 7-0 with 10:35 left in the first quarter.
The Hurricanes, who will travel to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers in the season Friday night, quickly responded with an 8-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a Joe Yearby 2-yard scoring run to tie the game at seven, and ended up going on an extended 31-0 run through the fourth quarter.
Walton gave UM the lead it would never relinquish with a 4-yard touchdown run with 8:43 left in the second quarter.
Then Miami capitalized on a Georgia Tech turnover as senior defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 47 yards towards the endzone – stiff arming a would-be tackler along the way – before fumbling the ball himself just before he crossed the goal line.
Luckily, linebacker Jermaine Grace fell on the ball in the endzone, putting the Hurricanes ahead 21-7. Michael Badgley completed the big second quarter with a 57-yard field goal as the halftime horn sounded – tying the school record for the longest made field goal.
Badgley said his confidence level is what helps him make kicks that long.
“Confidence is mental and kicking is mental,” Badgley said. “So I’d say that kicking is 90 percent confidence and 10 percent physical.”
Walton’s second touchdown of the day completed the run, as he took a short Brad Kaaya pass and broke six tackles on the way to the endzone.
Walton finished with 74 total yards (38 receiving and 36 rushing) but was big inside the 20-yard line. Yearby led with 47 rushing yards. Kaaya was 16-of-25 for 300 yards while tight end Chris Herndon and receiver Herb Waters each had three catches for 66 yards – both game-highs.
Scott said Georgia Tech’s early touchdown was just what the doctor order for his team.
“In a way we needed that, just to see what our guys’ response was going to be,” Scott said. “There was never any wavering. The look in their eyes was ‘we got it’. That’s the kind of attitude you want to see. The offense came right back and answered and calmed it down then the defense locked in…then they started to feed off of one another.”
Georgia Tech wasn’t so lucky.
After taking that early lead over the Hurricanes not even five minutes into the first game, Yellow Jackets starting quarterback Justin Thomas left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
Thomas’ absence coupled with the turnovers and a downpour of rain that rolled through Sun Life Stadium – including lightning that delayed the game 30 minutes in the third quarter – put Georgia Tech in a trail position from which that it could never recover.
Matthew Jordan replaced Thomas under center for Tech, and he finished with a game-high 28 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown while also completing four of eight passes for 59 yards and an interception.
Marcus Marshall led Georgia Tech with 74 yards, as he was one of four Yellow Jacket ball carriers to have at least 60 yards.
UM defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad, who had 11 total tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss Saturday, said that the Yellow Jackets’ first touchdown was a wake-up call.
“It definitely woke us up,” Muhammad said. “After that we just locked in and everyone did their job. We had a good week of practice leading up to this game and we made some plays to create turnovers – so it all worked out well.”
Saturday’s win had extra meaning.
It was the Hurricanes’ final home game of the 2015 season.
The true seniors and redshirt seniors – a group of 16 players – were honored before the game on the field with their families, including injured senior linebacker Raphael Kirby – who received a loud ovation from fans as he walked out on to the field on crutches.
While seniors like Waters and Kamalu made big plays for the Canes Saturday, it was the freshman Walton who turned in the day’s best performance.
“It was huge for us to get the win today,” Walton said. “We wanted to send those guys out with a victory. This is their last time here as Miami Hurricanes, their last time running through the smoke and playing in front of the home fans – so we had to do it for them.”
– Tight end Standish Dobard and receiver Tyre Brady did not play Saturday as they were both were serving a suspension. After the game, Coach Scott was asked about if the suspension was only for the Georgia Tech game.
“I’m not going to comment on those right now, we’ll deal with that when we get to it,” Scott said.
– Badgley’s 57-yard field goal tied with Danny Miller, who set the record in 1981 with a kick against Florida State.
“I know I’m never going to hear the end of it,” joked Scott after the game.
– Miami announced a paid attendance of 51,355 for Saturday’s game. Paid attendance does not always reflect the actual amount of fans in the stadium. Also, many of the fans that did attend were driven away by the torrential rains that passed through the area during the third quarter.