The University of Miami’s case of the disappearing receivers was solved Saturday by the No. 11 Hurricanes, thanks mostly to Mike Harley.
The senior slot receiver had 10 catches for 170 yards — both career highs — and UM’s only receiving touchdown late Saturday night to lead the Hurricanes to a 19-14 win over the Virginia Cavaliers at Hard Rock Stadium. The 170 were the most receiving yards by any Hurricane since Phillip Dorsett had 201 in 2014 against Arkansas State.
“The big point of the game were the plays of our wide receivers and D’Eriq [King] throwing the ball down the field,’’ UM coach Manny Diaz said. “Obviously, they were challenged during the week inside the building and they really responded. “
Besides his 43-yard touchdown catch on the game’s second play, Harley, who came into Saturday with 174 total receiving yards on the season, also had a crucial 5-yard catch to convert a third down with about four minutes left. He did it in front of an announced crowd of 9,940 masked fans in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — and driving rain.
Canes coaches made it obvious they were upset about the lack of previous receiving production when they listed nine possible starters on the depth chart early in the week.
“Someone just had to get out their comfort zone,’’ Harley said. “We were too comfortable, so coach made a challenge. Me, being the oldest guy, a senior, I had to step up.”
UM quarterback D’Eriq King threw the touchdown and completed 21 of 30 passes for 322 yards that got spread among seven pass catchers. Mark Pope added three catches for 48 yards and tight end Will Mallory had two catches for 58.
“Mike played a great game... I’m happy for him,’’ King said.
‘Elephant in room’
“The receivers were thrown a challenge all week from inside the building... It was the elephant in the room. The good thing about that was everybody was positive. Nobody was negative at practice. Man, I’m so proud of those guys the way they played tonight.”
UM, which struggled mightily with 30 rushing yards in the first half, finished with 123 rushing yards for a 2.6-yards-per-carry average.
Freshman Don Chaney, in the wildcat formation, scored UM’s other touchdown on a 1-yard rush with 12:04 left in the game to make it 19-7, before a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brennan Armstrong to Ra’Shaun Henry with 5:27 left cut the deficit for the final score.
UM revealed an hour before kickoff that not only was tight end Brevin Jordan out for the game (presumably with a shoulder/upper arm injury), but that six freshmen who were available for last week’s game were not available for Virginia. Jordan was seen on the sideline. UM does not disclose reasons for the absences.
The freshmen: safety Brian Balom, linebacker Corey Flagg, receiver Michael Redding III, receiver Xavier Restrepo, defensive lineman Elijah Roberts and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke.
“As far as the players that were unavailable, as you know they were unavailable,’’ Diaz said. “That’s all we can say about that.”
Miami has now reached the halfway point of a season no one was sure would even begin. The only game the Hurricanes (5-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have lost was at No. 1 Clemson on Oct. 10. Since then they’ve beaten Pittsburgh and the Cavaliers (1-4, 1-4) after starting the season with wins over Alabama-Birmingham, then-No. 18 Louisville and Florida State.
Jose Borregales’ back-to-back field goals late in the second and third quarters broke a 7-7 tie and gave the Canes a 13-7 cushion — the first for 32 yards and the next for 30, not nearly enough to feel secure.
UM, which led by three points at halftime, averaged 1.5 yards per carry in the first half and had allowed six tackles for loss (11 for the game) and four sacks of King. He was sacked a total of five times. Meanwhile, UM’s defense, which came into the game averaging 9.8 tackles for loss a game — fifth best in the nation — had amassed only one, with one sack. The Canes ended with the lone sack and two tackles for loss.
Virginia ended up starting left-handed quarterback Armstrong, who missed last week’s game because of a concussion, and rotated in backups Keytaon Thompson and Iraken Armstead.
“You gotta give those guys credit,’’ said Canes defensive end Jaelan Phillips. “They had a great game plan coming in, switching those three quarterbacks. We weren’t really sure if Armstrong was going to play, but obviously we game-planned for him. It was a great test for our defense.’’
On fire early
The Canes, who received first, came out on fire. King hit Mallory with a 32-yard completion near the right sideline, then connected with Harley at the goal line for the 43-yard score. The two-play, 75-yard drive took all of 28 seconds, and UM led 7-0 with 14:32 left in the first quarter.
“Will made a great catch on the first play and Harley took it the distance,’’ King said. “That’s what we need. We’re going to keep throwing the ball deep and keep trusting those guys and those guys will make plays.’’
Then, the fire fizzled. On Miami’s first play on defense, senior safety Amari Carter was ejected from the game for targeting. It was his fourth targeting call this season, with two overturned after an official review. Carter, a senior, was also ejected twice last season for targeting.
Using the three quarterbacks, the Cavaliers proceeded to thread together an 11-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, culminated by Armstrong’s 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Poljan. It was 7-7 with 10:06 left in the first quarter.
Miami had a chance to make it 10-7 in the first minute of the second quarter, but D’Angelo Amos blocked Borregales’ 42-yard field goal attempt, his first miss this season in nine attempts. No worries, because the Cavaliers missed their 36-yard attempt wide right with 3:13 left in the first half — and Mr. Almost Automatic, Borregales, was back to his usual form with a 32-yard field goal at 1:07.
With 21 seconds left in the half, a hard rain began to fall, and UM ran into the locker room up 10-7. The rain returned midway through the third quarter and became a deluge late in the game.
The trip to Miami was the Cavaliers’ third in two seasons — two regular-season games against the Hurricanes and the Capital One Orange Bowl against the Florida Gators. All three games were UVA losses, with the Cavs scheduled to return once again to South Florida for a 2021 UM game.
UM next travels to Raleigh, North Carolina, to face No. 23 NC State for a Friday-night battle with the Wolfpack.