MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Down by 10 points, the largest deficit faced by Miami in nearly a full year, there was no panic coming from anyone on the Hurricanes’ sideline.
And once they erased that deficit, everything started going their way.
Stephen Morris threw three touchdown passes, Duke Johnson finished with 325 all-purpose yards and the 14th-ranked Hurricanes shook off a problematic opening quarter to beat Georgia Tech 45-30 on Saturday, extending their best start in nine years.
“You really don’t have any leadership until you have a bead of sweat and the crap hits the fan,” Miami coach Al Golden said, borrowing a phrase from something his team was told over the summer. “And that’s what happened. I think we learned a lot about our team. We had great leadership through that, we had great poise, but it did look bleak.”
Not for long, it didn’t. The Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) outscored Georgia Tech 38-6 over a 37-minute stretch, more than enough to erase an early 17-7 deficit — even while turning the ball over four times for the second straight week.
Morris shook off the lingering effects of a bone bruise in his right ankle to complete 17 of 22 passes for 324 yards, Dallas Crawford ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the win, and the Hurricanes averaged 10.4 yards per snap against a defense that was giving up 4.7 per play coming into Saturday.
“I’m proud to say that we’re on the right track,” Morris said. “But we’ve still got a lot of things to do.”
Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford and Allen Hurns caught scoring passes for Miami, and Ladarius Gunter added a 30-yard interception return for another touchdown with 1:08 left.
David Sims had two rushing touchdowns for Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-2), which wasted a double-digit lead against Miami for the second straight year — plus missed a fourth-quarter extra point that would have tied the game. The Yellow Jackets controlled the first quarter, holding the ball for nearly 14 of the 15 minutes, and still lost to Miami for the fifth straight time.
“It’s frustrating,” Sims said. “The last couple of years we feel we had them on the ropes and we let them off each time.”
Georgia Tech came out with a formation that Miami hadn’t seen, which the Hurricanes described as a sign of respect. It also was a sign of trouble, since the Hurricanes were scrambling like mad against it early.
That, combined with the fact that each of Miami’s first three drives lasted exactly two plays apiece — the results were touchdown, fumble, interception — meant the Hurricanes’ defense was put to a big-time test early.
“It was like World War III out there,” defensive end Anthony Chickillo said.
Because Miami’s drives were ending so quickly, there was no time for the defense to make any adjustments on the sidelines. That didn’t happen until halftime, when defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio drew up a few fixes.
“It was as hard as can be. … They fought through it,” D’Onofrio said.
Sims’ 7-yard run opened the scoring, marking the first time since the Virginia game last season — 47 calendar weeks ago — that Miami faced a deficit, one that wound up lasting a mere 32 seconds. Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Miami 27, ran 33 yards on the Hurricanes’ first snap, and Morris found Dorsett for a 40-yard score on the very next play.
But with the score 17-7 after Charles Perkins’ 31-yard scoring run, Miami was in a two-score hole for the first time since facing Florida State last Oct. 20.
“No one was worried,” Johnson said. “We had confidence.”
They also got a break, provided by Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, who fumbled the ball away early in the second quarter. That led to a Miami drive capped by Morris finding Walford for a score, and the Hurricanes were on their way.
“You couldn’t have scripted a better start,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We were holding the ball, keeping the ball away from them. Had a couple of turnovers early and felt we had a lot of momentum. Then we turned it back which really hurt us.”
Georgia Tech is now 34-4 under Johnson when scoring more than 28 points. Two of those four losses have come in the past two seasons against Miami.
Hurns’ 69-yard catch-and-run late in the third Miami on top for good. After Dorsett fumbled a punt away to open the fourth, Georgia Tech answered with Sims’ second score of the game, and seemed poised to tie the game at 24-all.
But Trevor Stroebel’s snap on the point-after attempt was low, Harrison Butker’s kick went left, and Miami was energized — scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the first time since Oct. 8, 2011.
“We came out fast,” Lee said. “But they just finished.”