The Miami Hurricanes still have a heartbeat, and on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, it was vibrant. Whether it’s enough to preserve Manny Diaz’s job as head coach remains to be seen as the 2021 season unfolds.
Behind a dominant performance by quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, the University of Miami won its first game since late September, defeating No. 18 NC State 31-30 and earning its first victory over a Power 5 opponent since Dec. 5.
“We weren’t going down without a fight,’’ said Van Dyke, a second-year freshman with a cannon for an arm.
Van Dyke completed 25 of 33 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns to dazzle the announced crowd of 43,293. His 21-yard completion to tight end Will Mallory on third-and-16 with about two-and-a-half-minutes left allowed Miami to run out the clock. His main target: Charleston Rambo, with nine catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Second-year freshman running back Jaylan Knighton, taking over the lead role for injured starter Cam’Ron Harris, had 21 carries for 83 yards against the nation’s 11th rushing defense. Knighton added 83 receiving yards and a 53-yard touchdown catch on a fourth-and-1 play early in the second quarter to give UM a 14-3 lead.
Before Saturday, the Canes (3-4, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had lost six consecutive games against Power 5 teams.
NC State dropped to 5-2 and 2-1.
Pressure on Diaz
Diaz was under immense pressure to win after Miami athletic director Blake James declined to say on Friday during a phone interview if Diaz’s job was safe for the rest of the season. James told the Miami Herald he was evaluating every game in reference to the coach’s future status, and that Diaz “knows we need to win games.’’
Diaz is now 17-14 since he was named the UM head coach before the 2019 season. An emotional, passionate Diaz, clearly enamored of his team and impressed with its fight, spoke of Van Dyke’s “moxie” and willingness to take on the leadership role that had been vacant since former quarterback D’Eriq King’s season-ending shoulder injury last month against Michigan State.
“This team is mentally tough,’’ Diaz said. “This team is resilient. We’ve show it again and again. It’s baked into our DNA at this point. That’s part of the culture of our program. We had to play better. I thought our run defense got better today, to hold them to basically to 70 yards rushing when you take away the fake punt [for 40 yards]. That’s getting better. To hold them to three-for-14 on third down, that’s getting better.
“These are tangible things that we needed to improve to be the team we want to be. The fight is special in that team. They just hadn’t seen the reward in the win. And tonight they got the win and you watched them as a staff and we were so proud and so happy for them that they finally got the reward they deserved.’’
NC State came into the game No. 1 in the nation in third-down defense, stopping opponents 75 percent of the time. UM was 6 of 17.
The Wolfpack was No. 6 in scoring defense, formerly allowing 14.3 points a game — and 11th in total defense, allowing an average of 294.7 yards.
Miami gained 420 yards to NC State’s 421.
James and Diaz
Diaz was asked about James’ Friday message and didn’t expound on their post-game interactions. When asked if the athletic director gave him a heads up that he was going to speak to some media members, Diaz said, “No, I didn’t know anything about that.’’
The coach said James told him “just congratulations, normal post-winning stuff’’ after the game. “It’s all good.”
How much of what James said about about not being able to guarantee Diaz’s future at Miami was on Diaz’s mind Saturday?
“Blake and I have a good relationship and have had a good relationship, but to me this is all about competition,’’ Diaz said. “It’s about competing. Competitors want to compete. So, whatever comes out 24 hours before kickoff, to me that either has something to do with our competition that we have the next night or it doesn’t. It’s either helping or it’s not helping. If it’s not helping you don’t worry about it. That’s as simple as you can put it.”
The Canes have yet to string together consecutive victories this season, with their next opportunity on the road at noon next Saturday against the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers, who beat Clemson 27-17 earlier Saturday.
Down at halftime
Down 17-14 at halftime, Miami began the third quarter driving 75 yards on five plays for a 5-yard touchdown to tight end Will Mallory — highlighted by a 60-yard completion from Van Dyke to Rambo on the opening play of the drive. Miami led 21-17.
NC State scored next on a 44-yard field goal to make it 21-20, and UM answered with its own field goal, a 22-yarder by Andy Borregales. UM led 24-20 with 3:22 left in the third quarter.
But the Wolfpack came right back and capped a seven-play, 79-yard drive with quarterback Devin Leary’s 17-yard touchdown rush, and NC State led again, 27-24.
Next it was Miami’s turn, as Van Dyke drove the Hurricanes 75 yards in 11 plays, the last one a 4-yard touchdown pass to Rambo. UM led 31-27.
But after NC State missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt, Bubba Bolden dove and inadvertently hit the kicker and the Wolfpack got another opportunity from the 40. This time Chris Dunn hit the left upright and the ball ricocheted through the middle for three points.
Miami’s lead was narrowed to 31-30, and the Hurricanes’ ensuing drive went nowhere.
But freshman safety Kam Kinchens’ tackle saved the day for the Canes by stopping wide receiver Thayer Thomas short of a first down on fourth-and-8 from the NC State 46.
“It’s a routine play,’’ Kinchens said. “I do it every day in practice. Every time they have stacks, he’s going to stand off the line and do an out route, so I kind of knew it was coming. So I just had a big play. I make it all the time.”
Miami took over with 2:49 left and sealed the victory on the completion to Mallory.
“Our guys brought great energy,’’ Diaz said. ...The defense had to help the offense sometimes. The offense had to help the defense sometimes and we made the winning plays.
“Kam Kinchens, to make a play right there at the end, made a big-time, fourth-down stop. And then the courage of Tyler Van Dyke to trust his progression — they left Will Mallory wide open — and then to hit him to get that first down so we didn’t have to punt the ball, that’s stuff that veterans do.
“Great to see a locker room of guys getting to cherish a victory after what we’ve been through the last couple of weeks.’’