It was closer than the experts predicted, but in the end Miami proved up for the challenge in its opening weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference football.
Fueled by a late run, the Hurricanes pulled off the 45-30 win over Georgia Tech and advanced to 5-0 for the first time since 2004. A hard hitting defense, an early storyline this season, found a way to stifle the Yellow Jackets down the stretch, earning Miami its seventh straight win dating back to late 2012.
The Hurricanes, rarely tested early this season, overcame a ten-point first quarter deficit and proved worthy of their No. 14 ranking in this shootout over a feisty Coastal Division foe. Georgia Tech's early 7-0 lead was the first time Miami trailed all season, though it wasn't for long.
An early second-quarter forced fumble of Vad Lee set up a seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that put the Canes back in the game, reminding the Yellow Jackets this was going to be a sixty-minute slug-fest.
The squads traded scoreless possessions, but a late Miami field goal tied things up before halftime.
From that point on, it was all Canes, with no looking back. Miami scrapped its way out of an early hole and pulled ahead for good late third quarter when the hobbled Stephen Morris hooked up with wide receiver Allen Hurns for a 69-yard touchdown strike.
Two fourth quarter touchdown runs by Dallas Crawford extended the Miami lead and a Ladarius Gunter interception for score in the final minutes closed the door. The Hurricanes outscored the Yellow Jackets 38-6 between the middle of the second quarter and final minutes of the fourth.
Georgia Tech rolled in 3-1 in the ACC Coastal. Having recently fallen to Virginia Tech, a two game deficit in the division made this showdown at Sun Life Stadium an early season do-or-die situation.
Running back Duke Johnson again had his ups and downs, fumbling for the third time in four quarters of play, but when it mattered most, the sophomore got the job done.
Johnson finished with 184 yards on the day and though he didn't reach the end zone, found a way to provide multiple sparks for a Miami offense that wouldn't have survived without his efforts.
Georgia Tech tried to rally behind its triple option offense, but it was all for naught after Miami's defense woke from its slumber. The heart and soul of the Hurricanes' undefeated September run, UM's defense again stole the show, exposing an inconsistent and turnover-prone offense.
This marks Miami's tenth season in the ACC, with the Hurricanes never doing better than 6-2 in conference. Despite the level of competition, the Hurricanes have always found a way to fold. A BCS opportunity was lost in the final week of the season in 2004 when falling to Virginia Tech in the season finale, missing out on a Sugar Bowl berth against undefeated Auburn.
A year later, an eight-game win-streak was wasted when No. 3 Miami fell 14-10 to Georgia Tech late season, ending any shot at a rematch against Florida State in the ACC Championship. The Hurricanes rose in the polls after a 27-7 upset of the third-ranked Hokies, but lost all momentum with the loss to the Yellow Jackets. The season ended with a thud, walloped 40-3 by LSU in the Peach Bowl.
In 2009, new levels of heartbreak as a hot 3-1 start came to a 9-4 crashing halt, courtesy of mid-season losses to Clemson and North Carolina, neither of which were ranked at the time.
Saturday's win over Georgia Tech was far from flawless, but it showed these Hurricanes have developed the heart and maturity to win, even when they don't play their best.
Third-year head coach Al Golden was 13-11 coming into this season, has seen the grind that comes from ACC play and is working to keep his squad focused on a one at a time mentality, treating each opponent with the same focus as the next.
Wake Forest looms after the Chapel Hill match-up with the Tar Heels. From there, the game of the season as Miami heads to Florida State on November 2 for a season-defining Sunshine State showdown with the Seminoles, still undefeated and on the climb after a 63-0 shellacking of No. 25 Maryland on Saturday.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog
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