MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — As Miami began to celebrate its biggest win in years, Hurricanes coach Al Golden threw his right arm skyward and sprinted over to the Florida sideline for the traditional postgame handshake.
He offered congratulations.
He probably could have offered thanks.
Stephen Morris threw two first-quarter touchdown passes to put Miami ahead, and Florida gave the ball away on four red-zone trips to make sure the Hurricanes stayed there. Miami knocked off the 12th-ranked Gators 21-16 on Saturday, almost certainly ensuring that the Hurricanes — dogged for the last 26 months by a still-unresolved NCAA probe — will return to the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010.
“It’s been such a hard road,” Golden said. “We’ve just been battling this thing and obviously they’re one of the teams they’ve been battling during this thing. I think you guys can figure that out. It was just a very cathartic moment. It was a great moment for our guys, all those guys that not only chose the University of Miami during this but stood there and fought.”
Duke Johnson added a 2-yard touchdown run and a 21-9 lead with 3:29 left for Miami (2-0), which has won four straight dating back to last season, the longest such streak for the Hurricanes since 2008.
Jeff Driskel completed 22 of 33 passes for a career-best 291 yards and a late touchdown for Florida (1-1), which had gotten off to 2-0 starts in each of the previous eight seasons. But he had two interceptions, fumbled once and was stopped on a fourth-down try for another giveaway, all part of a messy effort by the Gators.
“It started with me,” Driskel said. “I was careless with the ball.”
The offensive numbers were ridiculously one-sided, in favor of the Gators. Florida outgained Miami 413-212, had a 22-10 edge in first downs, outran the Hurricanes 122-50, enjoyed nearly a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession and held Miami to an abysmal 1-for-11 effort on third-down chances.
And the Gators still lost, only blaming themselves afterward.
“You cannot keep shooting yourself in the foot, especially on the road,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
Miami had 143 yards in the first quarter, averaging 7.9 yards per play. The rest of the way: 69 yards, 2.0 per play. It was Miami’s lowest yardage total in a victory since Oct. 26, 1996, when the Hurricanes managed only 162 against then-No. 12 West Virginia.
“There was nothing easy on that field,” Golden said. “For either team.”
For Florida, that was particularly true when it got inside the Miami 20.
The one touchdown Florida had in the red zone was a gift, set up by a blocked punt in the first quarter. The other Florida trips deep into Miami territory ended thusly:
— Interception by Rayshawn Jenkins.
— Stopped on downs by Denzel Perryman and Olsen Pierre.
— Fumble by Trey Burton that was forced by Jimmy Gaines.
— Field goal
— Interception by Tracy Howard.
“I’m putting it on myself,” Burton said. “I made many mistakes.”
Driskel was sacked by Miami’s Tyriq McCord deep in Florida territory with 4:32 left, setting up the touchdown by Johnson that figured to put the game out of reach.
Still, the Gators had a chance. Driskel — who also ran for a score — found Solomon Patton for a 21-yard touchdown with 2:08 left to get the Gators within five. Miami recovered the ensuing onside kick and wound up punting the ball away, but Florida went nowhere at the end, and Miami had a celebration that was long in the making.
“This is why you come to The U, to play the Florida Gators,” McCord said.
So the last chapter, at least for the foreseeable future, of the series between the Sunshine State rivals went to the Hurricanes, and gave Golden easily his biggest win since coming to Miami. The Hurricanes had lost 12 of their last 14 games against teams ranked No. 12 or higher, often getting blown out.
Not this time, though they got plenty of help from the Gators in this one.
“We knew all week it was going to be a high trash-talking game,” Morris said. “I can’t tell you what was being said. It was dirty out there.”
The Gators reached the Miami 28 on the game’s opening drive, then wound losing the ball on a fumble by Matt Jones. Morris took advantage, finding Herb Waters with a 7-yard touchdown pass that opened the scoring.
Morris connected with Phillip Dorsett for a 52-yard score and a 14-6 lead for Miami late in the quarter, becoming the first quarterback to have two opening-period TD throws against the Gators since JaMarcus Russell did it for LSU in 2005. After the Morris-to-Dorsett play, not counting an end-of-half kneeldown, the Hurricanes ran six plays in about 17 minutes.
The Gators ran 30 in that span, and didn’t get a single point out of them.
“The first series we didn’t do a very good job,” Muschamp said. “Once we got some things corrected, we played a lot better. … At the end of the day, we gave them too much momentum. We gave them what they needed.”