Duke, Miami have much to play for in Saturday’s ACC finale
If there is a notion suggesting that Duke and Miami have nothing tangible to play for on Saturday, it would be wildly incorrect.
Some players on both sides are chasing records. The Hurricanes may need a win to save Manny Diaz’s job. The Blue Devils will aim to avoid having coach David Cutcliffe endure his first winless Atlantic Coast Conference season. And especially in Duke’s case, since its season ends Saturday, some players will likely be putting on a helmet and pads for the final time.
“I’m excited to see how our guys respond to this last challenge,” said Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils (3-8, 0-7) will play host to Miami for a third straight season. “We can’t do anything about what’s behind us. We’ve got one in front of us, and that’s where our focus is right now.”
Miami (6-5, 4-3) is already bowl-eligible and can clinch a winning season Saturday, plus perhaps do a bit more to strengthen Diaz’s chances of coming back in 2022. A win by the Hurricanes would give them five victories in their last six games, and although the year was doomed by a 2-4 start — then damaged even more by a loss two weeks ago at Florida State — Miami hasn’t stopped playing.
“We’ve got to make sure that we finish the regular season,” Diaz said. “We still believe that our best performance is out there and that really will be our focus this week, finding a way to play a complete 60-minute game up there in Durham.”
The future for both coaches is a source of much speculation.
Cutcliffe is wrapping up his 14th season at Duke, and it’ll be the third consecutive sub-.500 season for the Blue Devils. He turned 67 this season, yet insists he still has “a lot of fire” and that he’ll address his future only when he’s ready.
“I love doing what I’m doing,” Cutcliffe said. “Has this been fun? No. Has it been rewarding? Yes, because you find out more about yourself during these times.”
Diaz isn’t retiring. It’s just unknown if he’s returning for a fourth season.
Miami already dismissed athletic director Blake James earlier this month. And in a season where the Hurricanes expected to compete for the ACC title but wound up in the middle of the pack yet again, Diaz knows the fan base isn’t happy.
Excluding Notre Dame, which had a one-year stint as an ACC football member in 2020, Miami has the league’s second-best conference record behind only Clemson since Diaz was hired. Much of the second-half surge has come after Miami gave younger players a chance to play more, which Diaz believes bodes well for the future.
“I’m really excited about the first two recruiting classes we brought in this program,” Diaz said. “If we keep doing what we’ve done the last couple years and we keep bringing in the talent we brought in last couple years and we keep playing, I think things will get really, really good around here.”
MIAMI RECORD WATCH
Wide receiver Mike Harley enters Saturday with 169 catches, four away from matching Reggie Wayne’s career record at Miami. And fellow receiver Charleston Rambo has 71 catches for 1,070 yards; that’s one shy of matching Leonard Hankerson’s single-season record for receptions and 92 yards from tying Allen Hurns’ single-season mark for receiving yards.
DUKE RECORD WATCH
Blue Devils RB Mataeo Durant has 1,173 rushing yards this season and needs 64 on Saturday to break Duke’s single-season record. Steve Jones rushed for 1,236 in 1972. “We would all love that for a youngster that’s had a special year,” Cutcliffe said. Durant is six yards shy of 2,500 for his career and would be the fourth Duke rusher to reach that milestone.
VAN DYKE ROLLING
Miami QB Tyler Van Dyke — who didn’t even become the starter until D’Eriq King was lost for the season to a shoulder injury — is the nation’s only player to have thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his last five games. He’s on pace to be the 11th quarterback in Miami history to have a 3,000-yard season; he’s up to 2,550 in eight games, excluding his 0-for-1 mop-up appearance against Alabama in the season opener.
Miami leads the all-time series 14-4, though Duke has won two of the last three meetings. The Hurricanes won 48-0 in Durham last year, the most lopsided score in the series.
The Hurricanes are in Durham for a third consecutive year because of the quirks that went into the ACC putting together a schedule during the 2020 pandemic season. Duke was originally scheduled to play at Miami last season but wound up hosting the Hurricanes. It all evens out; Virginia played at Miami for a third consecutive season this year.
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