MIAMI — Stephen Morris wasn’t perfect, Duke Johnson was held in check and Miami’s offensive playmakers were outgained by more than 200 yards.
And it didn’t matter one bit.
The Hurricanes’ young defense, a group that came into the season facing plenty of questions after struggling a year ago, forced Florida into four critical mistakes in the red zone.
Ultimately, that Miami effort and those Gator mistakes provided the perfect combination and gave the Hurricanes a 21-16 upset win over rival Florida in front of an announced crowd of 76,869 at Sun Life Stadium Saturday.
It was the kind of performance Miami, tied for the No. 24 spot in the USA Today coaches’ poll and unranked in the AP poll, had yet to put together against a highly-ranked opponent under third-year coach Al Golden.
That it came against Florida, ranked No. 9 by the coaches and No. 12 by the AP, in what could be the final regular-season meeting for the two programs in a long while, only made the moment sweeter.
“It was 26 months just unleashed there in the last four or five seconds,” Golden said. “I’m proud of these guys. You guys watched us grow. We couldn’t handle this setting a year ago. Obviously, because of the intensity, this one is a level higher early in the year. I’m real proud of the way the guys fought. There was nothing easy on that field for either team.”
Despite Miami (2-0) holding the lead for much of the game, Florida put together a scoring drive late when Jeff Driskel connected with Solomon Patton for a 21-yard touchdown 2:08 left.
That pulled the Gators (1-1) within a score, but it was only the second time all afternoon Florida was able to find the end zone after having four drives stall inside the 20.
First, Rayshawn Jenkins intercepted a Driskel pass in the early in the second quarter. Then came a big Miami stop on 4th-and-1 inside the Hurricanes’ 16-yard-line. That was followed by Thurston Armbrister recovering a Trey Burton fumble, and in the fourth quarter, freshman Tracy Howard got the first interception of his career when he picked off another errant Driskel throw.
In total, there were five Florida turnovers negating the fact the Gators outgained Miami in nearly every statistical category, including total yardage (413 to 212), first downs (22 to 10), passing yards (291 to 162) and rushing yards (122 to 50).
“Defense, we actually had a pretty good game,” said Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman, who had a game-high 13 tackles and a forced fumble. “Their offense is very physical. They (play) smash-mouth football like I said in the beginning of the week.”
Miami’s defensive effort was enough to hold up two early touchdowns, the highlights on an otherwise tough afternoon for the Hurricanes’ offense.
UM scored on its first possession of the game when Morris, who was 12-of-25 passing for 162 yards, found Herb Waters for a 7-yard touchdown catch. Florida answered on its ensuing possession with a 9-yard run by Driskel, but the Gators failed on a two-point conversion attempt that kept Miami ahead.
Seven plays later, the Hurricanes pushed their lead to 14-6 when Dorsett caught a beautifully thrown 52-yard touchdown pass from Morris.
“I was disappointed early,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “I thought we gave them way too much momentum and belief early in the game. We rebounded and came back and played through some adversity and tough deals, but you’ve got to create an opportunity for your team and we didn’t do it well enough.”