In a game with no real flow on either side, a long fourth-down pass through the driving rain proved to be the turning point.
Backed up to the Duke 28-yard line and facing fourth-and-19, kicking a 45-yard field goal in whipping wind and rain coming down in sheets wasn’t an ideal option. So, freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya dropped back and found Herb Waters along the left side of the end zone. Waters, covered by two safeties, managed to snare the ball and get a foot in bounds.
That proved to be the decisive score. On a night where neither offense found much rhythm, the Hurricanes did enough to come away with the 22-10 win.
"I was in man coverage, and the guy just kind of jogged off the line, and I didn’t think he was going to run a route," safety Jeremy Cash said. "Once I was able to change speed, I started cramping.
"That was on me."
That decisive drive began thanks to a Duke turnover—the first of three. The first two turned into Miami touchdowns. The third, another interception, came with less than two minutes in the game.
Coming into the game, Miami’s defense looked ripe for the picking—but the Blue Devils (4-1, 0-1 ACC) responded with one of their worst offensive performances in recent memory. Duke hadn’t scored fewer points in a regular season game since Oct. 27, 2012 (a 48-7 loss to then-No. 11 Florida State).
"A lot of mental mistakes," Anthony Boone said. "We had a good game plan going into it, and you just saw a lot of mental mistakes."
Most egregiously, the Blue Devils were 2-for-16 on third down—the easiest stat highlighting the futility. Boone, a fifth-year senior, continued his season-long struggle with accuracy, going 18-for-38 (47.4 percent) for 149 yards, no touchdowns and one interception through Duke’s last competitive drive (which ended with an incomplete pass on 4th-and-12 with 4:42 left in the game). Boone, in his second year as starter, had minus-2 passing yards through the first quarter, throwing up four uncatchable balls in his first six attempts. And when the ball was in the general vicinity of the Duke wide receivers, they didn’t do him many favors—once again, there were several drops, not a problem associated with Duke pass catchers in years past.
The general sloppiness extended to penalties, too—Duke was flagged eight times for 50 yards. And there were four unclean exchanges between center Matt Skura and Boone. Skura was also flagged for two snap infractions.
"It’s not something we see at practice," head coach David Cutcliffe said of the snap issues. "We have a very experienced center. We’re going to look closely at what was going on there. A couple of times he (Boone) said he didn’t hear Matt. We don’t have to have a cadence. There are a lot of different ways to manage it."
Boone’s final numbers: 22-of-51 (43.1 percent) for 179 yards and two interceptions.
Still, despite Duke’s issues on offense, Miami (3-2, 1-1 ACC) let the Blue Devils hang around until late in the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes came out and gained 139 yards on their first two drives (which ended in a field goal and touchdown, respectively) and then just 92 on last six drives of the first half. Duke was down just six with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game—but Boone threw his first interception on the first play of the Blue Devils’ ensuing drive.
"I don’t think there is any question that our defense played well enough for us to win," Cutcliffe said. "They didn’t do anything consistently."
It’s hard to know what to make of the Blue Devils—they feasted on inferior competition through nonconference play, but, even then, there were stretches were the offense was out of sync and the run defense looked vulnerable.
Questions about the defense were to be expected, especially up front. But there was not supposed to be much drop-off when offensive coordinator Kurt Roper left for Florida and Scottie Montgomery took over. Things, though, have not gone according to plan.