A season that included highlights like victories over Notre Dame and North Carolina, but too many lowlights, came to a disappointing end for Duke on Saturday in a 40-21 loss to Miami.
The Blue Devils (4-8, 1-7 ACC) saw any hope of getting a postseason spot by virtue of their academic credentials and five wins evaporate as the Hurricanes (8-4, 5-3 ACC) dominated the second half.
“There have been times when we’ve shown a lot of great potential and what we can do in the future,” sophomore wide receiver T.J. Rahming said after catching 10 passes to match his season high established in a loss to Pittsburgh just a week earlier. “And there were times when we showed that we need to step it up more.”
After trailing by just two points, 16-14, at the break, the Blue Devils saw the Hurricanes break the game open with a 24-point outburst in the second half before quarterback Daniel Jones threw a third touchdown pass with less than three minutes remaining for Duke’s final score.
The Blue Devils seemed to lose their mojo when freshman kicker Al Reed missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt wide right late in the third quarter with the score just 23-14 at the time.
“I felt like our team went flat,” Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said. “I felt like that was the most difficult point of the game emotionally. That’s my job to see that we respond better.”
Miami took over at its 22-yard line after the miss and marched 78 yards in just five plays with quarterback Brad Kaaya hitting wide receivers Stacy Coley and former Leesville Road star Braxton Berrios for 32 and 33 yards to ignite the drive and finishing it with a 3-yard touchdown pass pass to Coley.
“The game takes on an entirely different light,” Cutcliffe continued. “Our guys I think still fought, but you see the results of the second half to where we just weren’t the same team consistently anywhere - the nemesis of the big plays on defense and not being able to finish drives on offense.”
Kaaya started the game-turning third quarter with a 76-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku and then set up kicker Michael Badgley’s fourth field goal of the game, a 43-yarder, with a 42-yard strike to Coley.
Thus a 16-14 game at the half turned into a 33-14 affair going into the fourth quarter.
“The play that broke it open, obviously, was the one down the middle to Njoku,” Miami coach Mark Richt said.
Richt said Kaaya checked to the deep pass after seeing the defense, then laid the ball in perfectly against the Duke defenders.
“After that, it kind of snowballed on them,” he said.
Jones started the game by completing his first 10 passes and threw two touchdown passes to give the Blue Devils a 14-10 lead on the first play of the second quarter. But three of Duke’s seven possessions in the second half were three-and-out affairs, and a fourth lasted only four plays.
“I’m not really sure they made an adjustment,” Jones said. “You’ve got to give credit to them. They’re a good defense. It was just on us to execute.
“We came out hot, and it’s important for us to keep the momentum and build off of what we did. And we didn’t do that so well.”