Down 17-7 late in the second quarter, it looked like another, "oh s#@t" moment for the Miami Hurricanes.
After dropping six straight ACC contests, even a rising Duke squad is no longer a 'gimmie' game for the Canes. Miami will have to earn every win down the stretch, starting with what eventually became a 49-31 rout in Durham this past weekend.
Bigger than the win, the post-game story revolved around quarterback play. Robert Marve again got the start, but it was Jacory Harris who would 'finish'. Marve went 4-of-17 for 64 yards with 1 touchdown and an interception with his pick coming early in the second quarter during a 7-7 tie.
On a roll out, with good protection, Marve had the option of throwing away or running out of bounds. Instead, a rookie move where the r-freshman heaved a desperation pass towards two Canes and three Blue Devils.
Duke put together a 10-play, 77 yard drive which put them ahead 14-7 when Harris entered the game with 6:48 remaining in the half. After a quick pass to TE Chris Zellner for no gain, the freshman was sacked for a seven-yard loss on third down. Duke's ensuing six-play drive resulted in a field goal and 17-7 Blue Devils lead with 2:50 remaining.
From there, Harris was in the Matrix - in the zone and virtually unstoppable. His legs accounted for 22 yards on the ground and his arm, 47 through the air. A nine-yard strike to Zellner narrowed the Duke lead to 17-14 at the half.
The Northwestern connection shone as Harris comfortably found his old high school counterpart Aldarius Johnson thrice on that scoring drive and four more times in the second half.
A boneheaded interception to start the second half put Miami in a 24-14 hole and unlike Marve, Harris was given a chance to dig his way out of the mess he helped create. A 37-yard scamper by Graig Cooper set Miami up at the Duke 32. Harris found Travis Benjamin for a 17-yarder and a play later, the quarterback used his own wheels to reel off a 15-yard score to bring Miami within three.
A Harris-led Miami squad went three and out the next two possessions thanks to incomplete passes, an stalled ground game and a six-yard sack on a 3rd and 6. Late in the third, good field position and a 23-yard catch by Kayne Farquharson put Miami just outside the redzone and three plays later, Harris found A. Johnson for a six-yard score, giving the Canes a lead they'd never relinquish.
Harris wrapped up the afternoon 18-for-28 with four touchdowns and two interceptions, which now has many wrongly clamoring for him to assume the starting role.
Not to throw any cold water on this latest win, but one good performance doesn't earn anyone a starting role. Say you start Harris next week and Marve comes in for the second half, outplays him and clearly has a better game. Then what? Do you switch back to Marve a week later when heading to Virginia?
Not to sound like Miami's former lame duck head coach, but it's time to stay the course. Randy Shannon has oft said the Canes have two starting quarterbacks and at this early point in both their careers, he is correct.
You don't bench Marve for a 4-of-7 performance and the game's first scoring drive - nor do you elevate Harris for effectively picking apart Duke late in the second half, thanks to a no huddle offense that kept the Devils' D on their heels.
Marve starts against Wake Forest, Harris gets his reps and the hot hand of the afternoon deserves to press on. That's how you coach in a rebuilding year with two freshman quarterbacks who both need nurturing. You stay the course and don't punish or over-reward based on a performance or two.
Harris looked like the more comfortable quarterback last Saturday. The true freshman throws a nice ball and made some great decisions. He seems to find the tight end easier than Marve and sports more confidence regarding threading a needle and getting the ball to covered wide outs.
Both quarterbacks are prone to making rookie mistakes and while Marve has the stronger arm, Harris seems to have better touch. Instincts-wise, both appear to have 'it' but both have looked 'off' at times.
By the two competing down the stretch, the hope is that one surpasses the other and proves why he should start. That hasn't happened yet, no matter how some folks are trying to spin the second half rally at Duke. The current system should stay in play until proven otherwise. While many can't see past the next game, folks need to realize you're building for 2009, 2010 and 2011 by letting these kids cut their teeth in this fashion.
4-3 going into a showdown with Wake Forest next weekend, Miami finally had a 'breakout' game against a lesser opponent. The offensive outpour against Duke was the type of contest most were expecting against Central Florida the week prior. Some will say it's only the Blue Devils, but the seven touchdowns the Canes laid on them was the most they'd given up all season. Even Georgia Tech with their potent offense only mustered up 27 in a win.
The Youth Movement continues, with baby Canes starting to shine all over. Those frustrated with the play of upperclassmen like Sam Shields are now seeing the junior receiver demoted in favor of freshman. Outside of first-year players A. Johnson and Benjamin combining for 11 catches, 129 yards and two touchdowns, LaRon Byrd and Davon Johnson broke out of their shells with three grabs for 46 yards and two scores. Thearon Collier is seeing some reps as well.
All in all, eight receivers touched the ball last Saturday, not counting Cooper and J. Harris, the recipient of a 17-yard receptions from Benjamin on a reverse.
It took half the season for things to start falling into place, but the "out with the old, in with the new" mentality is in full force. Freshman are starting to play above their age and experience. Miami is starting to jell, though it's too soon to tell how much. That won't be known until better competition is across the ball down the stretch.
Shannon said months back that the ACC beats up on itself and that's proving true. Of the remaining foes, Wake Forest got thumped by Maryland (26-0) who was schooled by Virginia (31-0), who was embarrassed by Duke (31-3).
Virginia upsets a North Carolina team on a roll (16-13, OT) and Virginia Tech falls to Boston College (28-23), who lost to Georgia Tech (20-17), who the Hokies beat (20-17) mid-September.
Miami is 1-2 in the ACC race, but things are wide open again thanks to a few upsets. Over the next two weeks Florida State faces Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, which could really help shake things up in the Coastal division.
While it's way too soon for the Canes to start thinking about winning their division, the past few weeks have proven anything can happen. The race truly is wide open and the team who takes things a game at a time will be representing in Tampa early December. How crazy would that Miami v. Florida State rematch look six weeks from now if things play out as they could?
Until then, it's Wake Forest, Virginia (11/1) and a bye week. Miami then closes out with back-to-back Thursday night ESPN games - Virginia Tech (11/13) and Georgia Tech (11/20) - and a season finale at N.C. State (11/29).