How Duke toughed out a win at Miami to set its season on a better course

Wounded but not out, senior linebacker Ben Humphreys personified the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday night.

Playing through the lingering pain of a left knee injury, Humphreys returned to the field against Miami having missed his team’s 54-45 loss at Pittsburgh a week earlier.

“He was fierce. And intense. And fast,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He’s one of our faster, stronger people on defense. He makes plays other plays can’t make because of that makeup speed.”

Having surrendered the final 13 point of that gut-punch of a loss to Pittsburgh, Humphreys and Duke flipped the script to post a monumental win over the Hurricanes.

Aided mightily by Humphreys’ two fumble recoveries, the Blue Devils shut out Miami in the second half and they were the team that scored the game’s final 13 points this time in a 20-12 ACC football win at Hard Rock Stadium.

“Best feeling in the world,” Humphreys said. “You go through week by week, guys going down. Our coaches have stayed on us consistently. Every week, no matter who we were playing. I’m proud of our young guys. We stuck together like glue.”

Duke’s collective ego took a beating at Pitt, where the Panthers hit the Blue Devils hard in the fourth quarter to rally for a wild 54-45 win on Oct. 27.

Duke’s coaches challenged the players during practice in between the loss to Pitt and the win at Miami. Practices were physical despite it being the part of the season where most of the players are nursing ailments of varying degrees of discomfort.

“We challenged our players that the last 10 minutes of our practices would be unbelievably good and intense,” Cutcliffe said. “They bought into that. That’s the way you should practice. You should always be good. But when you get to the fourth quarter of practice you have to be outstanding.”

Humphreys led a spirited defensive effort that included plenty of contributors.

Running back Deon Jackson put Duke in front with a 75-yard touchdown run, a lightning bolt that led Miami know the Blue Devils were intent and capable of ending their two-game losing streak.

Walk-on kicker Collin Wareham booted a pair of second-half field goals to aid the Blue Devils’ comeback.

“This was an all-around team victory,” Humphreys said. “No one hero. Just proud. And happy.”

Here are some observations from a complete win that has Duke (6-3, 2-3 in ACC) bowl eligible for the sixth time in the last seven seasons:

Humphreys wants to go out with a bang

Humphreys injured his knee against during a 28-14 loss and it kept him from playing at Pittsburgh.

With only four regular-season games left in his Duke career, the senior linebacker wasn’t going to let his final season slip away.

“I’m playing my last four, well, five games now,” Humphreys said. “We get to go to a bowl. We are bowl eligible. Playing with everything I’ve got. Leaving it all out on the field with passion and setting a great example for these guys. I’m going to play every game like it’s my last. I’m just proud that I’m at Duke and I’m able to do it with the guys I’m doing it with.”

Humphreys recorded six tackles, contributing to a tackle for loss. His biggest play came with 12:26 to play in the game and Duke clinging to a 17-12 lead.

Miami had taken possession 10 seconds earlier with an interception of Daniel Jones’ fourth-down pass. The Canes crowd grew loud as the team celebrated with its turnover chain on the sideline.

But on Miami’s first play after that turnover, Humphreys stripped the ball from Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry at the Canes 47 and recovered the fumble himself at the Miami 43.

An unexpected win historically

Duke losing to Miami in football was more commonplace than the Blue Devils getting beat by fellow ACC Coastal Division foes Virginia and Pittsburgh.

The Blue Devils headed to Hard Rock Stadium Saturday night having never won there in ACC play.

Duke’s lone win at Miami came in 1976, 11 years before the Hurricanes’ current home stadium opened. And that was long before Miami joined in the ACC in 2004.

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Duke defensive tackle Trevon McSwain (95) does the sign of the “U’” after Duke defeated Miami 20-12. Lynne Sladky AP

Losing to Pittsburgh and Virginia over the previous two weeks meant the Blue Devils have lost to both of those teams in each of the last four seasons. So it was difficult to expect a win at Miami.

Yet Duke pulled it off.

“I’ve got to compliment our squad and our assistant coaches for a consistent, courageous effort in a very tough circumstance,” Cutcliffe said. “Not only a hostile environment and it was hostile. Hard to hear.”

A clean game

On a soggy night where heavy rain fell throughout the first half, creating puddles on the field, Duke avoided major miscues that could have led to a loss.

Despite the sloppy conditions and a Miami’s loud homecoming crowd of 62,000, Duke had just one false start penalty and one turnover on offense. The Blue Devils had three penalties in total for just 25 yards.

“That’s a big deal,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s huge.”

Miami defensive lineman Scott Patchan (19) attempts to tackle Duke running back Mataeo Durant (21) during the first half. Lynne Sladky AP

Miami was called for six penalties, including an offensive pass interference call against wide receiver Lawrence Cager after he caught a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left that would have given Miami a chance to tie the score.

The Hurricanes also botched an extra-point kick when the ball slipped through the holder’s hands on the snap. Miami had a field goal blocked in the third quarter as well.

Another injury. Of course

Duke lost all-ACC linebacker Joe Giles-Harris during the second half to an apparent knee injury. Giles-Harris still led the Blue Devils in tackles for the game with 12, including 1.5 tackles for losses. He was credited with the blocked field goal as well.

Cutcliffe said the initial word on Giles-Harris is an MCL sprain that won’t require surgery. But he presented that information with the caveat that Giles-Harris had yet to receive an MRI exam.

“I didn’t hear anything suggesting surgery,” Cutcliffe said. “The way we are this year? That’s almost a celebration. I just pray for him that he can get back because he is such a great young man. We are going to lean on Joe a lot.”

If Giles-Harris is unable to play against North Carolina on Saturday, he would join a host of other defensive starters who have missed at least one game with injuries this season. Cornerback Mark Gilbert only played in two games before having season-ending surgery on a dislocated hip.

Humphreys missed part of the Virginia game and all of the Pitt game. Defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord’s season ended when he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon on Oct. 13 at Georgia Tech.

Defensive tackle Drew Jordan and cornerback Michael Carter II didn’t play in Duke’s 31-14 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 29. Carter also missed the game with N.C. Central on Sept. 22.

Safety Jeremy McDuffie, a projected starter in preseason, hasn’t started a game this season due to lingering effects from a torn ACL he suffered in November 2017.

On offense, quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Brittain Brown, center/guard Zach Harmon and wide receiver Aaron Young are all starters who have missed games.

Helm comes up big

Redshirt senior tight end Daniel Helm saw a possible touchdown pass slip through his fingers during the first half at Pittsburgh a week earlier.

But Helm didn’t let it deter him and it certainly didn’t keep the offense from looking his way against Miami.

Helm caught four passes for 34 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown catch from Quentin Harris with 18 seconds left in the third quarter that put Duke up for good.

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Duke tight end Daniel Helm (80) scores a touchdown during the second half. Lynne Sladky AP

That touchdown catch came one play after Helm tipped a wobbly pass from running back Deon Jackson into the air before making a diving catch at the Miami 3 for a 12-yard gain to keep the Duke drive alive on third down.

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Duke tight end Daniel Helm, second from left celebrates with wide receiver Scott Bracey (11) after scoring a touchdown during the second half. Lynne Sladky AP

“I know Daniel can catch really well,” Jackson said with a laugh. “He kind of saved me a little bit. The ball was a little wet. But great effort. It took some great concentration. I’m really happy he caught that.”