With one game left in the season, the ‘Canes have found their rhythm on both sides of the ball. Two straight 20+ point victories and a win in Raleigh for the first time since 2004 will do that.
“It was a great victory for our team,” Miami coach Mark Richt said in his post game presser. “I’m really proud of everybody, just a great effort.”
Who’s to thank for the resurgence following four straight defeats that resulted in a less-than-memorable October?
Everyone who helped contribute to the winless October, in fact. The offensive line is creating holes for running back Mark Walton and giving time in the pocket to quarterback Brad Kaaya such that Walton and Kaaya are eating up opponents’ defenses once again.
Not to mention the defense, which continues to play well in spite of injuries to the front seven.
Walton continued his strong performance by scoring all of three of Miami’s touchdowns against the Wolfpack. Walton was able to find space throughout the second half. He scored two of his three touchdowns from outside the red zone en route to 120 yards rushing for his third consecutive 100-yard game.
Continuing on a strong lineage of tailbacks, Walton surpassed 1,000 yards on the season for the first time in his career. He ensured Miami would have a thousand yard rusher for the third straight year, following in the footsteps of Joseph Yearby and current Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya went without a touchdown for the third time this season but threw for 286 yards. He was accurate and decisive all day, and must be feeling the benefit of the rushing game picking up steam of late.
It’s entirely possible Walton stole a touchdown or two away from Kaaya with his touchdown runs of 30 and 24 yards.
True freshman wide-receiver Ahmmon Richards accounted for 117 yards of Kaaya’s passing total. In fact, Richards was all over the field, providing a consistent target whenever Kaaya needed one, even breaking records.
His third-straight 100-yard game launched him into first place in Miami history for receiving yards by a freshman. Who did he surpass?
None other than the legendary Michael Irvin, who’s record 840 yards has stood pat since 1986. Now enter Richards with 849 yards and counting.
“Honestly I just wanted to win,” Richards said post game. “Pretty much, that was my mindset coming in just win the game.”
A defensive struggle was broken 55 seconds into the third quarter with Walton’s first touchdown run of the day. The two defenses dictated a 3-3 tie for the first 30 minutes. Less than a minute into the second half, NC State’s defense enabled the Miami score with a roughing the passer penalty on the first play of the third quarter on what was already a 19 yard reception by Walton.
Kaaya hit Richards for 11 on the next play before Walton put his speed on full display one play later and finished the deal from 30 yards out.
NC State was poised to answer the Miami score with one of their own. The ‘Pack moved the chains on three straight first downs and a Miami pass interference penalty on third down gave them another fresh set.
Two downs later in was third down again. This time, Trent Harris applied pressure and flushed NC State quarterback Ryan Finley outside. Seconds later Finley’s ill-advised pass to the end zone was resting in the clutches of Miami freshman Malek Young. The two teams traded the next four scores of the game.
The ‘Canes proceeded to take the turnover and go 80 yards over seven plays, capping it off with a Walton plunge from the one yard line. NC State answered with a touchdown drive to keep the score close.
Jaquan Johnson recovered a muffed punt for Miami to start the fourth quarter and the offense turned the NC State mistake into a 20-10 lead. NC State mounted a 12-play drive that chewed up 6:50 of clock to stay within 20-13 . They probably would have liked to have that time later in the quarter.
Needing a knock-out punch, Miami responded by scoring a touchdown and in effect put the game out of reach. In desperation mode, the Wolfpack turned the ball over on downs following four straight incompletions.
“In the very end, to finish with a touchdown on that last drive was huge,” Richt said.
Miami took to victory formation and with that, vanquished their final opponent from the Tar Heel State.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said he thought Young has handled everything that has been thrown at him this season. He has seen increased playing time thanks to injuries on the defense.
“It’s remarkable. It’s amazing,” Diaz said about Young’s quick development. “So for a guy like Malek to be thrust into that role – and as we do with our standard, we don’t expect a dropoff no matter who plays – it’s a lot of credit to who he is as a young man.”
Game highlights can be found here.
Miami (7-4) finishes the regular season against the Duke Blue Devils (4-7) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Alex Goldman is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. He is currently the Sports Editor of distractionmagazine.com. He’s a Northern California native and loves snowboarding, writing, and above all the Green Bay Packers.