No. 9 Miami rallies behind King, D to beat Va. Tech 25-24

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
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BLACKSBURG, Va. — After coming precariously close to not being able to play Virginia Tech because of COVID-19 issues, No. 9 Miami came away with one of its gutsiest victories of the season.

D’Eriq King threw for 255 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score, rallying the Hurricanes to a 25-24 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Miami announced it had 13 players unavailable before the game, including three starters and several offensive linemen. There were 15 games called off this week across major college football because of COVID-19, the most of any week both by number and percentage of the schedule.

Miami-Virginia Tech was nearly No. 16.

“We were on the brink,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “The players’ attitude was the most telling. They wanted to play. We were right on the brink at some position groups as to whether we could function as a team.

“We brought the team, and the players came here to win the game. I told them I thought they won the game on Friday with their mentality and their attitude, with all the things we had to go through this week.”

The Hurricanes (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) rallied from an 11-point, third-quarter deficit to win their fourth consecutive game and stay very much alive for a spot in the ACC championship game.

“I just think part of the way you do it is to not panic,” Diaz said. “You don’t believe you have to play perfectly. You just got to find a way to get the job done.”

Miami scored the game’s final 12 points and held the Hokies (4-4, 4-3 ACC) scoreless on their final five possessions.

“It’s definitely a lot of positive energy and a lot of belief in the locker room right now,” Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips said. “Obviously, you don’t want to have tight games like that every week, but a win is a win, and I think every week we’re becoming stronger as a team.”

King guided the ’Canes on two long second-half scoring marches. A 13-play, 75-yard drive ended with Cam’Ron Harris’ 6-yard touchdown run, and cut the lead to 24-19 with 1:27 left in the third quarter. Miami failed to convert a 2-point conversion.

Miami put together a 10-play, 82-yard drive that ended with King throwing a dart to Mark Pope for a 36-yard touchdown to take a 25-24 lead with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter.

King, who rushed for a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter, completed 24 of 38.

Hendon Hooker paced Virginia Tech, throwing for 201 yards and rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown.

“I hurt for them,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said of his players. “They came up short today, but it wasn’t for a lack of preparation. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. It wasn’t for a lack of guys caring about each other and guys being selfless. I’m hurting for them because they were so close to getting what they desperately wanted.”

THE TAKEAWAYS

Miami: The Hurricanes played well on defense, despite missing a couple of starters. Miami held the Hokies to a season-low 160 yards rushing and sacked Hooker six times, with Phillips (4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks) providing a lot of the pressure.

“Shoutout to the defense,” King said. “They played great all day, and I think the offense made plays when we had to, and that’s always good.”

Virginia Tech: The Hokies have lost two straight and three of their past four as they struggle to sustain drives in the second half. Their final five drives ended with three punts, an interception, and on downs. The Hokies need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible for the 28th consecutive season.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Miami will remain in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll and may jump a couple of spots pending the outcomes of other games.

UP NEXT

Miami: The ’Canes host Georgia Tech next Saturday.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies travel to Pittsburgh — if the Panthers are ready to play. Pitt’s game Saturday against Georgia Tech was postponed because both teams were having issues with COVID-19.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.