Another Saturday, another chaotic ending for the Miami Hurricanes.
With seven interceptions in his past three games, Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is clearly struggling. But his offensive line, a couple of his running backs, his kicker and a smothering goal-line defense came through in the clutch Saturday in UM’s 29-26 overtime win over Virginia.
It likely won’t get easier for the Canes (6-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have three of their final four games on the road, including trips to North Carolina State (5-3, 2-2) for an 8 p.m. Saturday kickoff (ACC Network) and the always-exhilarating trip to Tallahassee against No. 4 Florida State (8-0, 6-0) on Nov. 11.
“It doesn’t matter to me,’’ said true freshman running back Mark Fletcher. “We just want to play Hurricane football.’’
Fletcher ran three consecutive times in overtime, including the game-winning 11-yard touchdown run that qualified the Hurricanes for a bowl — something they couldn’t achieve in last year’s 5-7 season.
Fletcher and fellow tailback Ajay Allen, a redshirt freshman, each bullied their way into the end zone for touchdowns Saturday. Allen’s was a 26-yard rush in which he hurdled over Virginia safety Jonas Sanker before sprinting toward the end zone and then entering it backwards. It was later learned he left the game with a hamstring injury.
“Did you see that boy in the air?” Fletcher said, laughing. “Man, that was crazy.’’
The Van Dyke situation, however, is no laughing matter. Van Dyke, who returned as starter Saturday after sitting out the previous week in a double-overtime win against Clemson, appears to still be ailing with multiple injuries he sustained this season. Most of them came in an Oct. 14 loss at North Carolina, where Van Dyke was hit hard and injured his right-knee, as well as his ribs and back. And that’s not including the three ligaments he tore in the preseason on a finger of his throwing hand.
Wearing a brace over his right knee, Van Dyke was 20 of 30 for 163 yards and no touchdowns, with two interceptions. At times he seemed to depend on his arm to propel the ball instead of pushing off his legs and using his entire body. Fortunately, a tremendous offensive line performance didn’t allow Virginia to get near him.
True freshman Emory Williams, who started in Van Dyke’s place and led UM to victory the previous week, never got in the game.
Van Dyke conceded that had it not been for Andy Borregales’ field goals of 47 yards (second quarter), 50 (fourth quarter) and 48 (fourth), UM “would have lost the game.’’
“I feel confident,’’ Van Dyke nonetheless said, though his body language didn’t equate. “I just have got to make better decisions. I can’t force the ball down the field when it’s not there. Gotta make more plays with my feet and check the ball down more.’’
He said of his knee: “It didn’t affect me at all. Just didn’t play well at the end of the day.”
When asked about Van Dyke, coach Mario Cristobal said, “It wasn’t a good day.’’
“I think, the other games, yeah there were some throws he’d like to take back, but when you play come-from-behind football, you’re going to get some of that. Today was muddy. Things weren’t as clear as they have been in the past.
“We’ve got to scheme it up better, we’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to play better. I don’t want to, in any way, shape or form, say anything but Tyler is our quarterback. He’s done a really good job. Today wasn’t his best day and that happens sometimes.”
The ACC is a jumbled mess, so nothing new there.
The Hurricanes are still in the hunt to get into that league title game on Dec. 2 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, but they have to win out and depend on others for it to happen.
Since this year there are no divisions, the two teams with the highest ACC winning percentage play for the league championship.
So far, Miami has gotten plenty of help from UNC losing its past two games, and No. 20 Duke losing to No. 15 Louisville on Saturday. UM needs North Carolina, as well as Georgia Tech, to lose another game.
Here’s the overall ACC scenario: Four teams, including Miami, are tied with 2-2 league records. The others: Boston College (5-3, 2-2), Duke (5-3, 2-2) and NC State. Of those teams, Miami has the best overall record, with the other three at 5-3. Better yet, the Canes still play BC and NC State.
The teams ahead of UM in the league race are No. 4 Florida State (8-0, 6-0), No. 15 Louisville (7-1, 4-1), Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-1), North Carolina (6-2, 3-2) and Georgia Tech (4-4, 3-2). Miami has FSU in a couple weeks, then Louisville.
Virginia’s only overtime drive consisted of three consecutive passes from quarterback Tony Muskett: an incompletion and completions of 2 and 5 yards that forced the Cavaliers’ 35-yard field goal by Will Bettridge, a Miami Gulliver Prep grad.
UM held the Cavaliers to four field goals, and safety Kam Kinchens returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown.
“Just bend and don’t break,’’ Kinchens, who had nine tackles and a breakup, said. “They’re getting confidence and we’ve got to take the confidence back. ...If we hold them to three, that’s better than six.’’
Also excelling for UM’s defense were safety James Williams, with a game-high 13 tackles; linebacker Cory Flagg Jr., with 10 tackles and a tackle for loss; defensive end Jahfari Harvey, with nine tackles and a quarterback hurry; linebacker Francisco “Kiko” Mauigoa, with 2 1/2 tackles for loss, a batted ball, 1 1/2 sacks and six tackles.
And true freshman defensive end Rueben Bain was again a menace, registering two sacks, a breakup, quarterback hurry and seven tackles. Bain’s third-down sack near the end of regulation precipitated the punt that gave UM the ball back before the Canes took a knee to force overtime.
▪ Former starting defensive end Akheem Mesidor will miss the rest of the season, Cristobal said. Mesidor sustained a foot injury on Sept. 9 against Texas A&M.