But they still didn't put the game away until scoring two third-quarter touchdowns, one on a 22-yard interception return by defensive tackle Micanor Regis.
Coach Randy Shannon even acknowledged that he wasn't particularly happy with the intensity level, especially with the Hurricanes looking to make up for their dismal performance a week earlier in a 45-17 loss to Florida State.
But that's just normal, he said.
"No," he said when asked if he was satisfied. "But like anything, as a coach you're really not happy about anything. You always want more and more."
He did like the way the Hurricanes responded after a rather inauspicious beginning. Graig Cooper had difficulty fielding the opening kickoff looking into the sun, and the Blue Devils took advantage of his fumble for a quick field goal.
"The first play of the game is a fumble and you hold a team to three points," Shannon said. "Then you come back out and you score points on offense, which really shows you that they were focused on things we had to get done in that environment."
The victory made Miami 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference. Because their lone ACC loss is to Florida State, which is in the Atlantic Division, the Hurricanes still control their own destiny in the Coastal Division.
By winning out, they would win the division and play for the title.
But their next game should provide more of a test than Duke. Miami plays host to North Carolina, which has won the last three meetings in the series,. The Tar Heels have an identical record and identical hopes, though they have a division loss to Georgia Tech and will need help to make it to the title game.
--Senior RB Damien Berry became the fifth player in Miami history to record three consecutive 100-yard rushing games when he carried 25 times for 111 yards in the win over Duke. Also on the list are Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore.
--The Hurricanes came up with five interceptions against Duke, giving them 12 through six games. They had only nine in 13 games last season, and the year before that only four total. The four picks by defensive backs against Duke is one more than the secondary had all of last year and only one short of what Miami defensive backs have had in the last two years combined.
--Senior WR Leonard Hankerson moved into sole possession of sixth place for touchdown receptions in Miami history with one scoring catch against Duke. It was his seventh touchdown reception of the season and 16th in his career. On the same 14-yard play in the second quarter, QB Jacory Harris threw his 47th career touchdown pass, moving into a tie for fourth place with Gino Torretta in school history.
GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Kelvin Cain -- In his first collegiate start, the true freshman was in on nine tackles, including his first career sack. He also forced and recovered a fumble to prevent a late touchdown that could have gotten Duke to within one score with five minutes left in the game. Until getting this opportunity because of starter Colin McCarthy's illness, Cain had played mainly on special teams.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Asante Cleveland -- A true freshman, Cleveland made his first catches of the season, snagging a pair of receptions for 20 yards. It is significant because Miami isn't getting any production from the position. TEs Chase Ford and Richard Gordon had combined for only five catches coming into the game. Gordon had one catch against Duke.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Seantrel playing the whole entire game I thought was big also. When you have young guys like that step up and really perform, you get kind of excited." -- Coach Randy Shannon, praising freshman RT Seantrel Henderson and two other first-year players, LB Kelvin Cain and TE Asante Cleveland.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Miami rushed for 224 yards against Duke, with TB Damien Berry running for 111 yards and Mike James for 84, but the real stars of the day were on defense. FS Vaughn Telemaque had two interceptions and CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB Ryan Hill and DT Micanor Regis had one each. That's the most picks for Miami under Randy Shannon, who saw his Hurricanes get four against Marshall in his first game as head coach in 2007. LB Kelvin Cain, DT Micanor Regis, and DE Allen Bailey all came up with sacks.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Despite a renewed emphasis on special teams, Miami had fumbles on its first two kickoff returns. The Hurricanes lost the first on Graig Cooper's bobble, giving Duke the ball in position to take a quick 3-0 lead, but kept possession on the second when freshman Eduardo Clements was able to catch the ball on a bounce and return it to the Miami 26-yard line. The Hurricanes also gave up a 28-yard kickoff return to Duke's Desmond Scott, but Duke was guilty of holding on the play. The Hurricanes allowed Duke to recover an onside kick with just over six minutes left in the game. PK Matt Bosher almost missed another extra point.
--LB Colin McCarthy, a starter all season, and OT Jermaine Johnson did not make the trip to Duke because of unspecified illnesses. Both are expected to be back for the North Carolina game.
--TB Lamar Miller (shoulder) did not play at Duke, missing his second straight game. His absence is being felt especially on special teams, where he is averaging 33.4 yards on kickoff returns.