MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — On one hand, the Miami Hurricanes are 5-1 six games into an 11-game regular season with the one loss on the road against No. 1 Clemson.
On the other hand, the last two wins have felt more like survival against Virginia and Pittsburgh than the more-desirable outcome of a team re-establishing the dominance of its 3-0 start.
As Miami strives toward a rematch with Clemson at season’s end as the second team in the ACC Championship Game, the team has built an appreciation for the difficulty of winning conference games, despite how easy it may have come in a 52-10 win vs. Florida State on Sept. 26.
While recent wins haven’t been aesthetically pleasing, slogging through a 19-14 win over Virginia (1-4) on Saturday night, the Hurricanes can take solace in being 4-1 in the ACC halfway through the 10-game conference slate in 2020. The final five-game stretch begins with a Friday night game at N.C. State on Nov. 6 on the other side of a bye week.
“We’re very pleased with where we’re at,” said UM coach Manny Diaz, whose team went 6-7 in his first season at the helm. “These guys have met challenges. … Just the fact to be able to be, at the end of the night, to be in that winning locker room and to see the kids’ faces and see how proud they are with their effort and really accomplishing being 5-1, (that was nice).
“It’s been a minute since we’ve been here, so I’m really proud of our guys, and now we get a chance to regroup, hopefully get some guys back healed up for a difficult stretch run.”
Miami had six freshmen pop up on the team’s unavailability report for undisclosed reasons an hour before kickoff on Saturday, joining star junior tight end Brevin Jordan (neck/shoulder) and freshman offensive lineman Issiah Walker (NCAA transfer clearance). An idle week could allow the Hurricanes to have some of those players return.
“We face adversity in certain games, and we just overcome and get the (wins),” said senior receiver Michael Harley, who had a career night with 10 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s win. “It might be ugly, but it’s not easy to win, so coming out with the W and coming out 5-1, I just have a great feeling about this team.
“This team is very special. We can go very far. I believe and I know my teammates believe and I know my coaches believe. We can go very far. We are not worrying about anyone on the outside, the doubters, none of that. We are just in our own bubble, working every day and performing at our greatest on Saturday.”
For grad transfer quarterback D’Eriq King, his first — possibly only — regular season with Miami since transferring from Houston is beyond the midpoint.
“It’s gone super-fast. I feel like every year, the season flies by,” King said. “We’ve just got to keep stacking (wins). I think the second half of the season, that’s where the great teams are going to step up. You got to stay one week at a time. You can’t overlook anybody. You got to try to just go 1-0 every week and the rest will take care of itself.”
Maybe there is good to take from winning close to a team you should beat by more on the scoreboard. If the Hurricanes are in a similar position at N.C. State or Virginia Tech or in the regular season finale against North Carolina with a spot in the ACC title game on the line, it can rely
“This game was great for us, as a defense especially, because it was really one of the first games we’ve had where the whole entire game was down to the wire,” said defensive end Jaelan Phillips, who had a team-high seven tackles. “It was a close-scoring game, and we really had to step up.”
Offensively, UM had Harley step up among a position group that needed someone to rise after coaches opened up competition for underclassmen to potentially supplant starters in the senior Harley and juniors Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins, who also made plays.
Junior running back Cam’Ron Harris has struggled to find running room, going for just 35 yards on 28 carries in the past three games. The Hurricanes may have found something with freshmen Donald Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton in the second half on Saturday. Both outgained Harris and ended up with more touches.
The defense didn’t come up with its trademark tackles for loss or takeaways. It also slipped up with a late touchdown on a breakdown in coverage and surrendered the opening scoring drive, but the unit was solid overall, even after losing senior safety Amari Carter to a targeting penalty on the first defensive play.
“When our backs are against the wall, we try not to panic,” said striker Gilbert Frierson, who even offered to play some safety with Carter disqualified and Gurvan Hall hobbled momentarily. “Just play the next play, no matter what happened on the previous play — just to fight. It’s another four downs. When a long play happens, as long as we get them on the ground, we get another (chance to get a) stop on defense, and that’s all we focus on, that next play.”
The next play comes on Nov. 6, after the bye week, to begin a pivotal five-week trudge to the finish line.
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