* The most important part of the game was how much energy Miami's players had. That was, by far, the most they've expressed all season and probably dating back to a year plus. I noticed it during pre-game and then right away during the opening kickoff. It didn't stop until the very end. Even Duke's players noticed, and a few of them commented on it after the game.
WR Jamison Crowder: “Miami had a lot of energy tonight. You could definitely tell defensively that they were fired up. You could definitely tell they had a different energy level than previous games and had a lot of intensity.”
DB Devon Edwards: "Miami had a lot of energy, and they were hyped and they came out really fast."
That's a big part of what's been missing here for so long and I've been putting a lot of emphasis on it during the recent struggles so that's the first thing I wanted to mention tonight. The kids genuinely seemed to be having more fun than usual tonight and I really hope that's a sign of things to come.
* That energy tonight included Al Golden, who did an admirable job of preparing his team during a tough week at home. His wife spent a few days in the hospital and so it was an abnormal work week for Golden and his team still came out prepared. He went nuts on the sideline when the penalty on Duke's intentional grounding penalty late in the game didn't come out at first. His players definitely noticed and it was encouraging to see.
* The defense stole the show tonight. Not only did they play with more energy but I thought they were well prepared. It was night and day from last week and night and day from last year's game against Duke. That was as good a defensive performance Miami's had since mid-October of last season. I liked how they seemed to let the cornerbacks play some more bump and run coverage. I watched a handful of plays where Miami's defensive backs re-routed Duke's receivers and that's not something that had been happening much. Antonio Crawford had two pass interference calls and I hope the coaches don't hold that against him in terms of playing time next week.
* Speaking of defensive backs, the play where Ladarius Gunter picked the ball off late in the game was the play of the game. Duke was driving, down just six, and I'm sure a lot of people were starting to get that feeling that Duke was going to go down and score to take a late lead. Instead, Gunter changed the image of the game in man coverage. A couple plays later a Miami touchdown put a stamp on it.
* Denzel Perryman was all over the place tonight. I think he finished the game with just six tackles but he was excellent. He was flying all over the place and making his presence felt. He caused a fumble, picked off a pass, and was in the ears of Duke players all night. That's old school Miami and it's one of the reasons why he's one of my favorite UM players in recent years.
* A lot of young players on defense are really close to turning the corner and becoming impact players. Ufomba Kamalu made some big plays down the stretch as a pass rusher. Corn Elder is making an impact at corner. Jermaine Grace is starting to play a lot more and make plays. Anthony Moten and Mike Wyche were both on the field early in the game after not playing at all against Louisville. Lets hope this positive progression continues for a lot of these guys.
* The lack of sacks is still a concern on defense. Duke dropped back to throw it 52 times and Miami finished the game with just one sack. They simply can't get pressure without bringing more guys and that's discouraging, especially when you have talented pass rushers like Tyriq McCord and Trent Harris and Chad Thomas. It's been an issue all season and that didn't change in this game.
* Miami's defense did a tremendous job of getting off the field on third and fourth down. Duke was 2-of-19 on those two downs in this game. Three bad snaps that were drive-killers didn't help their cause but it was definitely an improvement on Miami's end.
* Offensively, Brad Kaaya played well at times and missed some open receivers at others. Not turning the football over was a big key in winning this game and that's one of the first things James Coley talked about after the game. Kaaya threw for over 220 yards and two scores and that would have been close to 300 and three scores had his well thrown ball to an open Stacy Coley not been dropped. It would have been close to 350 and four scores had Phillip Dorsett not been ruled out by inches on his near touchdown. It was encouraging to see UM trying to get the ball downfield to the talented sophomore receiver though. Kaaya continues improving each week and that's the important thing.
* Duke was Duke. He's the best player on the team and so he needs to be getting around 25 touches per game. After the game Golden talked about Coley not hitting some of the holes on kick returns the way they want him to. I'm still confused on why they don't let Duke return kicks. Ameer Abdullah from Nebraska does. Georgia's elite running back does. They're game-changers in that role and so is Duke. Why not use him in that role?
* I thought one of the problems against Louisville and Nebraska was that UM's passing game wasn't spreading the ball around enough. I think five players caught passes in each of those two games. Eight caught passes in this one. Sometimes it's going to be hard getting all these pass-catchers involved but they did a better job of it tonight. Having said that, there should never be a game when one of the fastest players in college football (Dorsett) has zero touches. There's no excuse for that. It's a waste of incredible speed. Speaking of receivers, D'Mauri Jones played early and often in this game. He didn't catch any passes but it's encouraging to see him on the field when the game still matters. He's obviously making progress.
* It was a rough night for injuries along the offensive line. K.C. McDermott's knee injury did not look good. Taylor Gadbois was screaming in pain. We don't know the status of their injuries yet but if they're forced to miss time, that means three of Miami's top eight offensive linemen are injured (Alex Gall is the other). I was a bit susprised to see Nick Linder fill in at right guard (thus moving Jon Feliciano to right tackle). That means a true freshman, who was recruited here to eventually replace Shane McDermott at center, is further along than players like Trevor Darling (who could have filled in at right tackle) and Sunny Odogwu (who has been practicing at guard). I'm both surprised and disappointed at that at the same time. Having said that, the offensive line played fairly well for the most part. Miami's running game averaged around six yards per carry and Kaaya was not sacked at all.
* Miami's third down offense was poor again tonight. Fortunately it didn't come back to bite them like it did against Louisville. It's discouraging because there was a lot of improvement in this area against Nebraska last week. That's something the coaches really have to work hard to correct before the team goes to Atlanta next week.
* Justin Vogel continues having a terrific season. He averaged over 43 yards on eight punts and placed three of them inside the 20. After losing the best punter in school history last season, Miami struck gold with Vogel. The Canes would benefit tremendously if he continues punting the ball the way he did again in this game.
* There's still lots of room for improvement but the bottom line is that it was a win over a ranked opponent -- not a common thing around here anymore. Like Golden said after the game, Miami is now 1-0 in the Coastal Division Tournament. It wasn't always pretty but it was an important win this team really needed. It will only get tougher next week as the Canes will take on a Georgia Tech team that is much more talented than the Duke team that came into Miami this weekend.