It took an FCS team that plays its home games in a 5,000-seat stadium and didn’t compete last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and two young backup quarterbacks who excelled in their first real taste of college football — to spark joy Saturday for the Miami Hurricanes.
No matter how insignificant the target of their bullying, the Hurricanes were thrilled to get the win and play lots of youngsters doing it.
Miami defeated Central Connecticut State University 69-0 at Hard Rock Stadium, raising its record to 2-2 and finally giving the Canes something to smile about. That is, at least until next Thursday when they meet Virginia at 7 p.m. on national television (ESPN) in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener and first of eight consecutive ACC games.
Saturday marked UM’s largest margin of victory since a 77-0 shutout of Savannah State in 2018 and third largest margin of victory in school history.
“I’m proud of our football team today — obviously, against an overmatched opponent,’’ said coach Manny Diaz, who all but emptied his bench by the end. “I thought the most important thing today was Miami and how we played.”
Led by second-year freshman starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and true freshman quarterback Jake Garcia, with usual starter D’Eriq King sidelined by a shoulder injury, the Hurricanes scored on their first seven drives. They amassed a school-record 739 yards, 488 of them by halftime in front of an announced (but considerably smaller) crowd of 44,019. They led 21-0, 49-0 at the half and 62-0 after three quarters.
The defense, which held the Blue Devils to 198 yards, sealed the shutout when Joseph Zoppi’s fourth-quarter, field-goal attempt from 30 yards out fell short.
Van Dyke (10 of 11 for 270 yards and three touchdowns) completed all six of his first-half passes for 236 yards and a 5-yard touchdown to Mike Harley, 75-yard touchdown to freshman dazzler Brashard Smith and 83-yard touchdown to veteran running back Cam’Ron Harris (100 yards and two touchdowns on 10 first-half carries). He was sacked twice.
“It was good to get out there and get some reps against another team [and] in front of the atmosphere,’’ said Van Dyke, who had only thrown three incomplete passes in very little playing time of his previous three games. “It’s a lot faster out there than it is in practice. I’m prepared, so I’m ready.”
Garcia (11 of 14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns) completed 7 of 10 passes in the first half for 48 yards. He also paraded his wheels on a 45-yard sprint that led to a 2-yard Harris touchdown rush in the second quarter. Through late in the third quarter on a 44-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jacolby George, the Canes had scored on all five of Garcia-led drives and four of five Van Dyke drives (not counting a 1-yard knee to end the first half). Garcia’s other touchdown was a spectacular one-handed, 17-yard reception by freshman Romello Brinson in the third quarter.
Miami made it five of six for Van Dyke-led touchdown drives at 14:34 of the fourth quarter on freshman Thad Franklin’s first career score, a 31-yard rush. Franklin finished with 88 yards rushing.
Freshman Cody Brown added 79 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
“I’m really proud of both guys,’’ Diaz said of Van Dyke and Garcia, “but more importantly, I’m proud of the team for the confidence they put in the two quarterbacks. Taking over for D’Eriq King on a Saturday is no small thing. D’Eriq has such a huge presence on our football team and for our guys to rally behind Tyler and Jake shows how highly they think of those two guys.“
King stood on the sideline wearing a headset and helping his protégés as the game proceeded.
“He was on top of us helping us see coverages and pressures,’’ Garcia said of King. “It’s very helpful to see it through his eyes because he’s on the sideline watching... Now it’s our turn. We kind of had an idea that we would be playing early on in the week so we went out there and prepared.”
Garcia said his biggest joy Saturday “was obviously celebrating a win with my team. I feel like we got our swagger back and we are who we should be. I feel like we are going to carry this into the next week and throughout the rest of the season. That was a great part of today, just being able to have that energy.’’
Van Dyke and Garcia each led two series, respectively, to start the game and then alternated series until the half.
Garcia was especially humorous describing his 45-yard run.
“We do a whole lot of running, but I don’t run with my knee brace on,’’ Garcia said, “so when I put it on, my left leg got a little tired. I pulled the ball outside and while I was running, I was in my head like, ‘I pulled the ball. I’m in college and I’m running. I didn’t get hit and I didn’t have to slide and wow, I’m going to score!’ I ended up feeling the guy on my left side switch the ball, so I’m like, ‘Ok, I’m going to run it back and coach is going to be happy,’ and I looked over my shoulder and he ended up diving right before I was going to stick my arm out to stiff arm him a little bit.
And [I] went down, unfortunately. And I know I’m not going to hear the end of that.”
Fellow scholarship quarterback Peyton Matocha, a third-year redshirt freshman, entered the game at 13:45 of the fourth quarter but didn’t attempt a pass. He rushed three times for 24 yards.
The formerly heavily penalized Hurricanes finished the game with three penalties for 40 yards, and would have had none in the first half had Harris not been flagged for excessive celebration after an 83-yard touchdown run that took 14 seconds off the clock.