For two months, Miami invited skepticism. The Hurricanes, who haven't finished a season in the top 10 since 2003, started 7-0. But their biggest win, at Florida State, didn't do much for a resume in 2017, and they entered Saturday having won four games in a row by one possession. The selection committee placed them 10th in the first playoff rankings, and it was hard to argue against the relatively low ranking for an unbeaten team.
The Canes knew they'd have a chance to prove themselves with a high-profile two-week stretch to start November. They emphatically passed the first test, beating No. 13 Virginia Tech 28-10 at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday night.
The win gives Miami, at 6-0 in the conference, a commanding lead in the ACC Coastal race as it seeks its first trip to the league title game. It gives Miami its first win over a top-25 team, boosting its resume. And it also sets the stage for next Saturday's massive home showdown with No. 3 Notre Dame, which will involve the first "College Gameday" visit to Miami since 2001.
It's not that Miami played perfectly on Saturday. Malik Rosier threw three interceptions, and the team made plenty of mistakes. But it overcame the mistakes to earn a decisive quality win in which it played with confidence and intensity.
On Miami's second offensive play, receiver Braxton Berrios hit Rosier for a 17-yard pass. The Hokies ended up coming up with a goal-line stand on that drive, but Miami eventually took control of the game in the second quarter. Rosier directed an 87-yard drive, capped by an eight-yard TD to Berrios. After a quick Hokies three-and-out, Travis Homer broke off a 64-yard touchdown run.
Miami led 14-3 at halftime and looked shaky coming out of the locker room. Rosier threw interceptions on the first two possessions of the third quarter, with a Virginia Tech touchdown in between. However, on a fourth-and-two, Hokies QB Josh Jackson fumbled an exchange, giving Miami the ball. It took two plays for Miami to seemingly put away the game, as Rosier hit Christopher Herndon for a 43-yard touchdown.
The Canes added another touchdown early in the fourth when Rosier ran it in after a 42-yard pass to Ahmmon Richards. The story of the game late, however, was the defense, which has become known for the awarding of its turnover chain after a takeaway. The Canes had three takeaways in the final 16 minutes, including an interception by Sheldrick Redwine with eight seconds left. Redwine proceeded to get the turnover chain and write "BALL GAME" on a whiteboard:
'Canes called it. pic.twitter.com/N5rNXej9Tb— ESPN (@espn) November 5, 2017
Even Alex Rodriguez got in on the turnover chain act:
Some of the Miami skepticism isn't going to go away. This is still an imperfect team, and there's plenty more to prove, with Notre Dame looming as an even bigger test.
But as home underdogs despite being undefeated, the Hurricanes did make a statement on Saturday in extending their winning streak to 13 games. They're disruptive, physical and athletic on defense, and they have enough weapons on offense to hit the big plays they need to hit against a good defense.
The Canes deserved respect already, but on Saturday they demanded to be taken more seriously.