The Miami Hurricanes had plenty to be thankful for Saturday after a regular season that ended at Duke with their fifth victory in the past six games and a yet-to-be-determined bowl game on the horizon.
But whether the Hurricanes will be thankful after the University of Miami coaching situation is resolved, remains to be seen.
“All I’ve been told is, ‘Hey, let’s go win a football game,’ said coach Manny Diaz, when asked if he has definitively been told he’ll be back next season. “That’s it. That’s all I’ve been focusing on. That‘s the thing that matters right now. Everything else has been out of my control so it wasn’t really worth worrying about.”
Miami defeated the hapless Duke Blue Devils 47-10 at Wallace Wade Stadium, finishing 7-5 and 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference as they head into the bowl after starting the first half of the season 2-4.
Duke finished the season 3-9, losing to all eight Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.
Now, the Hurricanes will wait to see what the future holds for Diaz, whose job is in jeopardy after UM fired athletic director Blake James on Nov. 15. As of game time Saturday, a new athletic director, who will make the decision to either retain Diaz or go in another direction, had not been announced.
It has already been widely reported that UM offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will soon be named the head coach of SMU. It was not yet known if the Duke game would be his last with Miami, but quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said after the game that he talked with Lashlee about it. Either way, Van Dyke, who had another amazing performance (34 of 49 for 381 yards and three touchdowns), said he’d be back next year.
An impassioned Diaz, his voice hoarse after celebrating with his players in the locker room, said the reason the Hurricanes have been able to finish so well is that they’ve identified “every week what is in front of us right now’’ and have been present in the moment.
“That’s why they’ve shown the resiliency and mental toughness to be able to win five out of six and turn 2-4 into 7-5,’’ Diaz said. “We’re not happy with 7-5, but from where we were and where we’re going, I think everybody understands the way we finish is beyond putting a number up for this year. We’re not done. We have a bowl game we’ve got to go win. But this is for the future, and if you can’t see what the future looks like out on that field today, I mean it’s screaming at you.”
Diaz said it was clear that “the young guys out on that field making plays today...know this is not the end.
“This is the beginning.”
“It’s about to get really, really good and they sense that,’’ the coach said. “They know the mistakes we’ve made this year. We all own it. But to look at the adversity we’ve looked at in the eye every week, and for these guys to never flinch, and week after week to bring it, they are all in. They’re invested in this program, they want to fight for each other and there’s a hunger that they have right now that’s going to last throughout this entire offseason.”
After two seasons in which the Hurricanes collapsed at the end — losing the last two games of 2020 and last three of Diaz’s first year as head coach in 2019 — Miami is in position to end 2021 with six victories in its last seven games and with a winning streak for the first time since 2018.
On Saturday, the Hurricanes started slowly, their defense and special teams looking especially shoddy as Duke, a 21 1/2-point underdog, took a 10-3 lead midway through the first quarter on a 40-yard field goal and 94-yard kickoff return by Jaylen Stinson.
But second-year freshman quarterback Van Dyke was not deterred, continuing his spectacular rise with another incredible game that ensured teammates Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley would break school records.
Van Dyke’s day marked his sixth consecutive 300-yard game with at least three touchdowns. And he did it all before being replaced early in the fourth quarter by Ryan Rizk. Quarterback Peyton Matocha got in late in the final quarter.
Rambo broke Miami’s single-season records for receiving yards and receptions, eclipsing Allen Hurns’ 1,162 yards in 2013 and Leonard Hankerson’s 72 catches in 2010. Rambo finished the game with eight catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Harley became Miami’s career record holder for receptions, moving into first place with his fifth catch of the day in the first quarter. He eclipsed Reggie Wayne’s record of 173.
Harley also broke the single-game record for receptions, previously held by Willie Smith, Phillip Dorsett and Rambo — each with 12. Harley finished the day after his record-breaking 13th catch amassed 96 yards.
After trailing 10-3, UM scored the next 44 points to make it 47-10 with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
The scoring parade: four field goals by freshman Andy Borregales, the 12- and 14-yard touchdown catches by Rambo, a 21-yard touchdown catch by Xavier Restrepo, a 2-yard rush by Jaylan Knighton, a 9-yard rush by freshman Thaddius Franklin.
UM middle linebacker Corey Flagg, a second-year freshman, strongly defended Diaz Saturday after the game.
“I couldn’t even tell if there was something going on with his future if it wasn’t [for] social media,’’ Flagg said. “The guy just comes in the same way every day. He just stays positive every day. That’s my guy. Coach Diaz — he’s a great guy off the field, as well.
“Man, he’s a great coach. Win or loss, he’s the same guy every day and I appreciate that from him. We all do and we love him.
“That’s our guy.”