There were multiple occasions Thursday night when Miami could have just mailed it in against North Carolina. The Hurricanes could have mailed it in when they lost their best offensive player Duke Johnson in the first quarter to a head injury. They could have mailed it in when they lost safety Kacy Rodgers to an ankle injury and Phillip Dorsett to a knee injury. And they could have mailed it in trailing 23-13 on the road with 14:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Miami teams of the past decade probably would have mailed it in.
But not these Hurricanes; these Hurricanes appear to be a stronger category of hurricane.
Over the past decade we’ve witnessed promising Miami teams waver and fall in the face of adversity. In 2004, undefeated Miami lost to unranked North Carolina and then unranked Clemson the following week. Then to unranked Georgia Tech in 2005. Clemson and North Carolina again in 2009. Those losses cost Miami ACC titles.
Miami was facing similar adversity Thursday night against a 1-4, unranked North Carolina team, a team that has haunted Miami since it joined the ACC in 2004. A loss could have sent Miami’s season spiraling in the wrong direction like in previous years. For a while it seemed that might be the path it was headed towards as the clock ticked away in Chapel Hill.
That was because Miami was being outplayed by North Carolina for the first 56 minutes of the game. Quarterback Stephen Morris threw four interceptions and had his worst game in a Miami uniform. His four interceptions dug his team into a ten-point hole that most Miami teams of the past decade wouldn’t have been able to dig themselves out of.
But Miami found a shovel that was just big enough to do some digging. The man carrying it was Dallas Crawford.
Crawford rose to the occasion after Johnson was knocked out of the game and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns. Trailing 23-20 with 4:11 remaining in the game, he helped Miami drive 90 yards down the field that ended with Crawford pounding his way into the end zone for a 3-yard game-winning touchdown to squeak the Hurricanes by North Carolina and back to Miami with a 6-0 record. Crawford was the MVP of the night, rushing for 137 yards on a whopping 33 carries, 25 of which came in the second half. Crawford even blocked a punt on special teams.
Crawford wasn’t the only one digging for Miami though. Cornerback Tracy Howard grabbed a shovel and had two interceptions, including a huge one in the fourth quarter to give Miami the ball back after Morris had just thrown his fourth interception. UM’s special teams also did some digging. With Miami struggling in the first quarter, the special teams swung momentum when freshman Artie Burns blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt and Ladarius Gunter scooped up the loose ball and raced 67 yards for a touchdown to briefly give the Hurricanes a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Even Morris responded on the final drive of the game, completing all three of his passes for 34 yards to help lead his team back after a dreadful performance for most of the game.
"We played until four zeroes [showed on the clock] and we had every opportunity along the way to say 'Well, it's not our night' or not have the courage to finish. They chose to deserve victory," Golden said. "That's what they chose. They chose to win, stay together, fight, stand their ground until the end and because of that they gave themselves an opportunity to win the game."
Read that again. Miami’s players chose victory. They didn’t hope for it. They CHOSE it. They stuck together and kept fighting as a collective effort until the final second of the game. That shows a lot of growth by this team, something we haven’t always seen out of this program over past few years. It took a lot of guts to hang in there despite everything that was going wrong and all the adversity the game presented but they gutted it out together.
“It just says a lot about the guys, man,” Golden said to the Palm Beach Post. “There’s no turning back for this group right now. … They’re too invested in each other.”
“In years past, we would have probably lost this game,” Crawford added. “It’s all about believing. That’s what we did tonight.”
It may be time to start believing in this collective Hurricane.