The Hurricanes are back at .500 following a heartbreaking 41-40 loss on the road at Virginia.
Of all five UM losses this season, this one will probably haunt UM coach Al Golden and his assistant coaches the most. UM (5-5, 4-3 ACC) had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and then a five-point lead with the ball following a safety with 4:19 remaining.
This loss wasn't about a lack of talent or being outclassed by a better team. The Canes simply blew too many opportunities against a Cavaliers team (4-6, 2-4 ACC) that will be lucky to finish .500.
This, by the way, is Golden's third loss to a sub .500 team in his first 22 games as Hurricanes coach. Golden's assistants deserve to share the blame equally.
Jedd Fisch's offense had the ball in Virginia territory on each of its last two possessions and went three-and-out on each drive.
Mark D'Onofrio's defense, meanwhile, gave up a 12-play, 71-yard scoring drive which made it 38-35 and then a 16-play, 87-yard scoring drive with six seconds left to give up the lead for good. Virginia converted two fourth downs on the game-winning drive including the last one on a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Thomas Finnie.
Afterward, Golden called the loss "heartbreaking."
UM, which was minus two suspended starters (linebacker Eddie Johnson and receiver Rashawn Scott) and two injured starters (linebacker Denzel Perryman and safety Deon Bush), returns home next week to host USF.
We have to see if Bush and Perryman will be healthy enough to return, and if Johnson and Scott will be allowed back. Golden didn't elaborate on the status of either suspended player.
"We just got to keep fighting," Golden told WQAM after the game. "We can't go backwards here. We got to stay together. It's really important we don't splinter, we stay together."
> Freshman Duke Johnson pretty much solidified his spot as the ACC's Rookie of the Year. He ran for a season-high 150 yards on 16 carries, threw an 8-yard TD pass to Allen Hurns and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score (the two kick returns in one season tied the school record). His 368 all-purpose yards in Saturday's game helped him surpass Edgerrin James, Graig Cooper, Chuck Forman, Santana Moss and Lamar Miller for all-purpose yards in a season. Johnson now has 1,688 total yards on the season. Willis McGahee holds the UM record with 2,108 in a season.
Yet, it somehow still wasn't enough.
Fisch turned to Johnson with the game on the line -- with UM facing a 3rd and 6 at the Cavaliers 49-yard line with under three minutes to play. Johnson only got two yards on the carry and the Hurricanes had to punt. But Saturday's loss was hardly Johnson's fault.
"The last 3rd and 5, I wanted the ball in his hands, thought he would be able to get us in there," Golden said. "We didn't and had to punt the ball. Duke gave great effort. Last couple of weeks he's been healthy, preparing better. He's really playing hard for us right now."
UM's defense gave up 482 yards of total offense including 388 through the air as Virginia's two QBs Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims combined to go 40 of 51 passing in the game. That's a 78 percent completion percentage. Rocco was completing just 58.2 percent of his attempts coming in. Sims was completing 55.8 percent of his passes.
By giving up 41 points, UM's defense has now surrendered 312 points on the season -- just two shy of the previous UM worst set by the 1984 and 2008 defenses. The Canes have already given up 4,896 yards in all. The previous worst was 4,369 yards (1997).
The records for most yards allowed rushing (2,492, 1944) and passing (2,695, 2009) are well within reach with two games to go. The Canes have now given up 2,310 yards rushing and 2,586 passing after Saturday's loss.
> Gionni Paul ended up leading UM with a career-high 14 tackles. With Perryman and Johnson out, Paul and Jimmy Gaines (12 tackles) saw extensive playing time. Paul was beaten by Jake McGee for the game-winning touchdown pass.
"Obviously we left some guys home that could have helped us here today," Golden said. "We got to get off the field more on third down or the play count gets too high. The play count got really high on us. We didn't have the depth we need right now at the linebacker position and it showed late."
> Defensive end Anthony Chickillo produced his first sack in six games and helped along with Curtis Porter to produce a safety on Rocco in the fourth quarter when it was ruled he intentionally grounded the ball while jumping back towards the end zone. Chickillo was later credited with his second sack on that play.
Despite his effort Saturday, it's clear the Hurricanes need Chickillo -- and other pass rushers -- to be more productive consistently. Virginia's QBs rarely felt the heat on third and fourth down. The Cavaliers were also 6 of 6 in the red zone with 6 TDs against Miami. The Hurricanes have now given up 33 touchdowns in 54 red zone trips this season.
> Freshman Rayshawn Jenkins didn't start for the Hurricanes at safety, but finished third on the team with eight tackles. Jenkins and Bush are the future for UM at safety and D'Onofrio might consider playing both together in Miami's final two regular season games -- assuming Bush will be back.
> Cornerback Ladarius Gunter continues to impress in pass coverage. He had three of UM's five pass breakups. Most of Virginia's successful passes went in the direction of Finnie, freshman Tracy Howard and over the middle against UM's linebackers, who were out of position on many plays.
> A week after going 1 for 12 on third down versus Virginia Tech, UM finished 4 of 10. It's the last two third down attempts that will haunt them.
> Receiver Phillip Dorsett, who had just eight catches for 81 yards in his four previous games combined, finished with six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.