Those watching the University of Miami slog its way to a 6-3 victory against USF on Saturday might not have realized it, but they were witnessing something close to the Game of the Century.
At least that's the way Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris saw it.
"It was almost like the LSU-Alabama game, just going back and forth," said Harris, referring to No. 1 LSU's 9-6 overtime win against No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5.
No, Saturday's game had no national importance or even conference implications, but it did have one bit of real significance to the Hurricanes. When Jake Wieclaw's 36-yard field goal curved inside the goal post on the game's final play, UM (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) qualified for the post-season.
"It's exciting," coach Al Golden said. "We've had as much adversity as anyone could possibly have and withstand in one year, and our kids just hung together."
That was certainly the case against USF, which stifled the Hurricanes' offense for most of the day. UM was forced to punt eight times, was held to a season-low 58 rushing yards and allowed Harris to be sacked a season-high six times.
UM's defense, maligned much of the season, returned the favor. The Bulls (5-5, 1-4 Big East) managed only 249 yards of total offense, were forced to punt nine times and converted only 2 of 12 third-down situations.
The combined nine points scored Saturday marked the fewest in a game involving the Hurricanes since UM defeated Louisiana Tech 6-0 on Sept. 29, 1979, and the fewest in USF history.
Despite its general futility through much of the game, UM's offense came up big when needed most.
The Hurricanes began their final possession at their 20-yard line with 5:43 to play and converted three third-down situations while driving the ball to USF's 19-yard line with two seconds left in the game.
Wieclaw, who said he hadn't kicked a game-winning field goal since middle school, trotted on to the field and then was forced to wait as USF called two timeouts to freeze the kicker.
Wieclaw said he was expecting the first timeout, but "I didn't know it was allowed to try to ice me twice."
"Not really," Wieclaw said. "We kind of go over pressure situations every week in practice. So it's something I'm fairly used to."
Harris also came up big down the stretch. On UM's game-winning drive, the senior connected on 7 of 7 attempts. Harris finished the day 27 of 35 for 259 yards without a turnover despite taking a beating from USF's pass rush.
Golden said Harris was "pressing" early in the game.
"I kind of felt like I was trying to get a big play, but they were covering real well," Harris said.
While UM's offense struggled, the defense held an opponent to its lowest scoring total since a 31-3 win against Pittsburgh last season. USF quarterback B.J. Daniels entered the game 12th nationally in total offense with an average of 313.2 yards per game, but he managed only 118 yards against the Hurricanes before injuring his shoulder in the second half and leaving the game.
"I think they're growing up," Golden said of UM's defense. "We played a lot more people than we had been playing, and a lot more guys were ready. We gave up some yards, but we played tough on third down and played tough when it counted."
There has been speculation that UM might self-impose a bowl ban ahead of NCAA sanctions regarding the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Officials from the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., were at Saturday's game and are known to be very interested in inviting Miami to the Dec. 26 game.
Golden said he hasn't been told by anyone in the administration that the school might opt to sit out the post-season.
"Not that I'm aware of," Golden said.
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