‘Close isn’t good enough’: Hurricanes’ comeback attempt falls short against No. 10 Louisville

CORAL GABLES — A collision of two Hurricanes at the worst possible time cost Miami its chance at a top-10 upset.

Defensive backs Jaden Davis and Te’Cory Couch collided in coverage late in the fourth quarter, allowing Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer to connect with a wide-open Kevin Coleman, who escaped a tackle attempt by Kamren Kinchens, for a 58-yard touchdown. The fourth-quarter score gave the No. 10 Cardinals (10-1, 7-1 ACC) the advantage in a 38-31 win over Miami (6-5, 2-5 ACC) at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday.

“We gave ourselves a chance at the end,” UM coach Mario Cristobal said. “We found ourselves in a situation where we had a chance to take control of the game. It kept going back and forth. Good fight. Good effort. A lack of discipline at the end — that part is disappointing. We have to fix that. Aside from that, close isn’t good enough.”

The Hurricanes had a chance to tie the game, driving down the field in the game’s final minutes. Miami reached Louisville’s 3-yard line but could not reach the goal line on four consecutive plays.

Given one more chance to tie the game, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke nearly led a comeback in the final seconds. After Brashard Smith was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a punt with 19 seconds left, the Hurricanes reached the Cardinals’ 50 on a pair of passes from Van Dyke. With five seconds left when he snapped the ball, Van Dyke threw a last-second heave. Xavier Restrepo caught the pass 4 yards short of the end zone and could not score, sealing the loss.

“Obviously, you’ve got to chuck it up and pray,” Van Dyke said. “Made a play. Was hoping maybe he snuck into the end zone there but obviously didn’t. I felt like I could’ve got a little more on that and put it a little more into the end zone but didn’t.”

Louisville’s win came in spite of a much-better game from Van Dyke, who had a solid performance after returning from the bench to start at quarterback for the Hurricanes. After throwing 11 interceptions in his previous five games, Van Dyke did not turn the ball over.

“He was very determined,” Cristobal said. “It carried over to this week. He was very urgent if you watch the way he was moving around in the pocket. His feet were quick. He’s healthy now, too, almost completely. He was very determined to play well, and he did that today.”

Despite the progress on offense, the Hurricanes’ defense had one of its worst games this season, allowing Louisville to rack up 470 yards and score 38 points. Only North Carolina gained more yards against the Hurricanes this year.

“They give you the same look and run different things out of it,” Miami defensive lineman Branson Deen said. “They had a great plan coming in and they executed really well.”

The Cardinals got off to a quick start. After forcing the Hurricanes to go three-and-out, they drove down the field for a nine-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jack Plummer to tight end Nate Kurisky. Miami nearly escaped the drive with only a field goal allowed, but a completed pass for a 3-yard loss was overturned on review, giving Louisville a chance to go for it on fourth down and continue the drive.

But the Hurricanes struck back quickly. Van Dyke connected with Jacolby George for a 43-yard pass over the middle, and freshman running back Mark Fletcher Jr. broke a couple of Louisville tackles to score from 21 yards out.

All-American safety Kamren Kinchens picked off his fifth pass of the season on the subsequent drive, setting up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Van Dyke to Restrepo, who finished the game with a career-high 193 yards.

A busy offensive first quarter continued as Louisville evened the score on a 12-yard score by Cardinals running back Isaac Guerendo.

Miami took another first-half lead on a 34-yard reverse run by Smith, but Louisville managed a short touchdown before halftime. The Hurricanes took a 21-20 lead into the locker room because Cardinals kicker Brock Travelstead missed a 24-yard field goal and had an extra point blocked.

Fletcher notched his second touchdown of the game in the third quarter. After Miami forced a punt from deep in Louisville territory, Fletcher burst through the line at the UM 45 and ran to the half-yard line. Two plays later, he punched in a score to put the Hurricanes back ahead, 28-23.

Unfortunately for UM, the defense could not hold the Cardinals in check. Backup quarterback Evan Conley swung the game back in Louisville’s favor, scoring a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Cardinals up 31-28. Louisville scored on the late Coleman touchdown, giving the Cardinals the needed advantage.

Five takeaways

1. Tyler Van Dyke snaps slump

Miami re-inserted Van Dyke into the starting lineup after Emory Williams’ season-ending injury, and he had a solid performance.

The veteran quarterback threw for 327 yards with 24 completions on 39 attempts. He had one touchdown. Most importantly, he snapped his streak of interceptions.

“I just looked at the whole perspective of things and understood I’m playing quarterback at the University of Miami. It’s a blessing, and just have fun with it,” “I feel like that was the key. I thought we did a great job on offense. Obviously, had to finish, to end the game the right way.”

2. Fletcher’s powerful running

Fletcher made his third straight start, and the freshman running back continues to show why the Hurricanes’ coaches have so much faith in him.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound halfback had a career day, notching 126 yards on 17 carries. He had a pair of touchdowns and broke several Louisville tackle attempts.

3. Miami offense’s best game in weeks

With Van Dyke looking closer to his old self and Fletcher’s excellent running game, Miami had its best offensive performance in weeks.

The Hurricanes’ 31 points is their most since scoring 31 points against UNC on Oct. 14. They racked up 486 offensive yards, which is their highest total since their win over Temple on Sept. 23.

“It definitely gives us more confidence because, like I said, we know what we’re made of,” Fletcher said. “This is (what) we could have been doing week after week. But like I said, we just have to execute. Today we just couldn’t get the job done.”

4. Special teams proves vital

This game emphasized why special teams play is so important. One of the Cardinals’ touchdown drives came with great field position after a rare Andy Borregales kickoff fell short of the end zone; Louisville’s Maurice Turner returned it 50 yards to set up the score.

However, the Cardinals missed two kicks — a field goal and an extra point.

Borregales also drilled a 50-yard field goal to tie the game at 31 with 5:34 left in the fourth quarter.

But perhaps the biggest special teams play of the day was the last when Smith was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a punt, backing UM up 15 yards before they finished the game 5 yards short of the end zone.

5. Brashard Smith shows his versatility

Miami used wide receiver Brashard Smith in a variety of ways on Saturday. Dawson utilized the junior as a wide receiver, runner, Wildcat quarterback against Louisville. UM also returned kicks.

Smith had a 34-yard touchdown run, and he had three catches for 17 yards. He had 50 yards on kick and punt returns, as well. However, he had a devastating unsportsmanlike conduct on Louisville’s final punt of the game, backing UM up 15 yards when they needed to drive down the field to tie the game. It was Miami’s second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final two minutes following George’s penalty after UM’s fourth-down attempt in the end zone.

“You jump all over that. It’s crap,” Cristobal said. “It’s complete and utter, unacceptable immaturity from a couple guys that have played really, really well. You’ve got to use it as a teaching moment, but you’ve got to go right at them. You’ve got to go right at them hard. It’s a bunch of bullcrap. That ain’t it. We all get upset, maybe get tugged, maybe get held, a guy hits you. It don’t matter It don’t matter. THey have flags, they’re going to throw them when they need to throw them, and we can’t do that. We’re not going to revert to that. We’ve got to to fix it; we’re going to fix it.”