Miami, Mario Cristobal were all smiles about Kamren Kinchens’ record-setting day at GT

Hakim Wright Sr./AP

It had been a while since Mario Cristobal smiled on the sidelines like he did in the fourth quarter of the Miami Hurricanes’ win Saturday, but a performance like Kamren Kinchens’ can do that to even the most hardened coach.

It was a record-setting day for the safety and he punctuated it with one of the most joyous moments of this often-miserable season: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets was driving, trying to score a garbage-time touchdown on their home field in Atlanta; instead, Kinchens turned it into seven more points for Miami, picking off Zach Gibson at the goal line and running it back 99 yards for the Hurricanes’ final touchdown in their 35-14 romp.

Miami, led by true freshman QB Jacurri Brown, breaks out for five TDs to win at Georgia Tech

It was Kinchens’ third interception of the day, tying a single-game Miami record, and it finally gave Cristobal and his Hurricanes reason to celebrate.

With two games to go, Miami (5-5, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) is still alive in the hunt for bowl eligibility, needing to just split its final two games to reach the postseason for the 10th straight year and its defense, led by Kinchens, picked up the Hurricanes in perhaps their toughest moment.

Miami’s trip to Bobby Dodd Stadium was a virtual must-win in the quest to reach a bowl — a loss would’ve left the Hurricanes without any wiggle room and they’ll be significant underdogs next Saturday when they face the No. 12 Clemson Tigers in Clemson, South Carolina — and Miami, with a nine-quarter touchdown drought, sent out freshman quarterback Jacurri Brown to make his first career start.

Brown gave the Hurricanes an early lead and they never trailed — an important factor, as Miami could then just lean on its rushing attack and let Brown play to his strengths as a runner.

Kinchens made it possible. Georgia Tech (4-6, 3-4) got all the way to the Hurricanes’ 32-yard line on the next drive, Yellow Jackets quarterback Zach Pyron heaved a pass to the end zone and Kinchens flew in for his first interception at the 2, crashing into cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and Georgia Tech wide receiver Nate McCollum, and still somehow managing to hang on.

It was only the beginning.

Despite the defense’s efforts, the Hurricanes were clinging to a 14-7 lead into the fourth quarter, when Kinchens again made a play. This time, Pyron overthrew his wide receiver on a deep shot and Kinchens again ranged over for a leaping interception at Georgia Tech’s 49.

Eight plays later, Brown found wide receiver Colbie Young for an 8-yard touchdown to push Miami’s lead up to 21-7 with 7:52 remaining.

His third interception came with the Hurricanes already up 28-7 in the last three minutes and gave him a place in Miami’s record book. It was only the 12th time a Hurricane ever grabbed three interceptions in one game and the first since former safety Kenny Phillips did it in 2006 against the Duke Blue Devils.

He now also leads the ACC with six interceptions this year.

Although Kinchens was most frequently the hero, he wasn’t the only one. Stevenson also nabbed an interception at Miami’s 9 in the third quarter, and defensive linemen Jahfari Harvey and Mitchell Agude each recorded second-half sacks to throw the Yellow Jackets off schedule, and stymie their comeback bid.

Agude’s came on Georgia Tech’s final meaningful drive. Right after Young’ touchdown, the Yellow Jackets started at their own 27 and Agude immediately dropped Gibson for a 3-yard loss.

Three plays later, Georgia Tech tried another throw on fourth down, into traffic, and cornerback Te’Cory Couch and — who else? — Kinchens were there to break it up with 6:13 left.

Four plays later, the Hurricanes were up 35-7 on a touchdown by running back Jaylan Knighton and ready to celebrate their most lopsided win since September.