Tidbits and observations from UM’s 45-26 win Saturday against Virginia at Sun Life Stadium:
### UM fans justifiably expected Miami’s eighth win to come sooner, but if it’s any consolation, the Canes (8-3) now have won (at least) eight games for the first time since 2009 and for only the second time since 2005. UM’s win total has risen from 6 to 7 to now 8 (and counting) in Al Golden’s first three seasons.
And after allowing 41, 42 and 48 points the past three weeks, UM allowed 27, albeit against a dreadful Virginia team. (Hardly a reason for a parade, obviously.)
The season will still be a disappointment because Miami likely won’t win the Coastal (barring a UM win, Duke loss and Virginia Tech loss next week). But a 10-win season --- combined with recent resolution of the NCAA case and a top-five recruiting class --- would at least end the year on an uplifting note.
### Al Golden, afterward on WQAM and during his postgame news conference: “I’m thrilled for the seniors. They’ve been through a lot of adversity. They decided they would come out and fight and not take the easy way out….We had more energy. Our tackling was really good in the third quarter. [But] we gave up a big punt return again. Our time of possession wasn’t very good (22:11)."
Virginia ran 91 plays and had 483 yards of offense.
"On offense, we have to do a better job. Nobody can be out there that long defensively," Golden said. "We're just not that deep.”
### UM’s defensive backfield was very good for 3 ½ quarters, including Tracy Howard’s interception return for a touchdown to start the game (Howard admitted he knew the play was coming and “he did the same thing in practice,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said); Ladarius Gunter's pick and long return to set up a UM TD before halftime; and decent coverage that helped limit Virginia starting quarterback Larry Watford to putrid numbers: 10 for 25 for 106 yards and three picks.
But UM ended the game depleted at cornerback –-- a major concern with UM scheduled to play Friday at Pittsburgh. Miami, already without Artie Burns, lost Ladarius Gunter, Corn Elder and Nate Dortch.
Gunter sustained a neck injury late, left on a stretcher, and was taken by helicopter to Jackson Hospital for observation. [UPDATE: UM announced after 8 p.m. that he has been released from the hospital and will be able to play football again this season.]
Golden said the injuries to Elder and Dortch are "significant." Elder has been planning to join the basketball team as a point guard after football season.
Those injuries left Howard and Antonio Crawford as the only experienced cornerbacks. Larry Hope, who has played mostly on special teams, also is available. UM wants to redshirt cornerback Ray Lewis III.
### UM’s run defense was again bludgeoned in the first half, allowing 208 yards and more than six per carry. But with Virginia forced to throw a lot in the second half, the Cavaliers had just 35 yards on the ground after intermission, closing at 5.3 per carry. Virginia's rushing yardage total was its highest against an FBS opponent.
Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert put up good numbers (12 for 15, 117 yards) in garbage time late in the game.
### Safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who was told very clearly by coaches that he needed to be more of a physical presence across the middle, made two big hits, including one that nearly got him ejected before the officials correctly changed their mind and merely called it a 15-yard penalty.
### UM’s running game mustered just 90 yards, on 3.6 per carry. In the games Duke Johnson played, UM averaged 192 yards rushing. In the three games since, it’s just 101. Dallas Crawford closed with 55 yards on 16 carries --- including his 13th touchdown --– but his highlight was a terrific block on Stacy Coley’s 62-yard TD.
### The run blocking hasn’t been nearly as dominant as one would expect considering the supposed depth and talent of this offensive line. Aside from splendid work from Ereck Flowers and Brandon Linder, the line has had too many lapses. Seantrel Henderson remains one of this season’s biggest disappointments.
### Of UM's 14 possessions, six ended with either three-and-outs or a turnover before a first down was made. That has been a problem all season.
### Virginia outgained UM, 483-304, but Miami’s four takeaways were huge. “That’s something we were lacking, and part of what the problem had been,” D’Onofrio said on WQAM. “We had sudden change stops, red zone stops.”
### D’Onofrio dialed up some timely blitzes, including one from Antonio Crawford that forced a third down incompletion. The hope is that the secondary, which will be more experienced next year, will be good enough in coverage to allow a more aggressive defensive approach next season.
### Stephen Morris’ numbers were again bloated because of yards after catch. In fact, all of Coley’s 62 yards on his TD catch were YAC. Morris closed 13 for 26 for 214 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.
“I had a couple of tears in my eyes, was watering up,” Morris said about running through the smoke for the final time at Sun Life Stadium. “Coming here, you never see yourself leaving.”
### One of the best developments of the season: Coley has becoming an electrifying playmaker. He has seven TDs on the season and has plays of 81, 79 and 62 yards the past three games.
### Aside from Johnson, Allen Hurns clearly has been UM’s most consistent offensive skill position player this season. He had six catches for 126 yards on Saturday, including a 26-yard touchdown, and now has 965 receiving yards for the season. He also moved into 10th place on UM's all-time receptions list (110).
"He's a testament to what we want in our program," Golden said. "He's self-made. He is a leader."
### Aside from blocking, UM got nothing in the passing game from tight ends Saturday, with Clive Walford, Asante Cleveland and Beau Sandland all finishing without a catch. In fact, only three UM players had receptions: Hurns, Coley (5 for 81) and Crawford (2 for 7).
### Good to see some of the young players get more work, especially on defense. Tyriq McCord and Al-Quadin Muhammad, who could become everydown players at outside linebacker, got some work on first and second downs, with mixed results.
McCord should have made a stop for a loss on a third and three, but couldn’t make the tackle, and Virginia got a first down. But give McCord credit for forcing the quarterback fumble that David Gilbert scooped up and sprinted 73 yards for a touchdown.
UM hoped Gilbert, a senior transfer from Wisconsin, would have been a bigger factor this season. “Happy for him,” Golden said.
### Junior defensive end Ufomba Kamalu played a lot, and pretty well, and he factors in significantly into UM’s plans next season. Kamalu gives UM terrific size at end: He’s 289 pounds and UM expects him to be top 300 pounds by next fall. Tackle Earl Moore also got some work.
### UM's 17 INTs are its most since 2003... UM snapped a three-game losing streak against Virginia... The senior class finished 17-9 at Sun Life Stadium.
### Four-star California-based quarterback Brad Kaaya, one of UM’s key commitments, is visiting UCLA this weekend. But he remains orally committed to UM and was asking people on Twitter for a UM score update on Saturday.