Takeaways from Miami’s win at Georgia Tech: Hurricanes might have found their QB – The Athletic

ATLANTA — Miami ended its touchdown drought and might have found its quarterback of the future.

A week after rival Florida State humiliated and handed them their fourth consecutive loss at home in the same season for the first time in nearly 50 years, Mario Cristobal’s football team found the spark it needed in true freshman Jacurri Brown.

The 6-4, 215-pound former four-star recruit from down the road at Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes tossed three touchdown passes, and high-stepped and hurdled his way to 87 yards rushing in a 35-14 win at Georgia Tech.

Safety Kam Kinchens, meanwhile, tied a school record with three interceptions. He returned one 99 yards for a touchdown to lead a bounce-back effort for Miami’s defense, which forced a season-high four turnovers and produced nine tackles for loss and two sacks.

The Hurricanes (5-5, 3-3 in the ACC) play at Clemson a week from Saturday and close out the regular season at home against Pittsburgh. Miami needs at least one more win to lock in a bowl game.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s win on a chilly night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

1. Josh Gattis’ offense looks a lot better with a mobile quarterback providing a real running threat. 

Miami came into Saturday’s game 110th in scoring against FBS opponents (19.0) and without a touchdown in nine quarters. The loss of four starting offensive linemen to injury served as a valid reason for some of the struggles, but the reality is Gattis’ offense was going nowhere with a traditional drop-back passer handing off the ball.

Enter Brown, who went from a weapon who was sprinkled in on short-yardage situations to becoming the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Hurricanes since Brad Kaaya in 2014. Miami’s running game came to life because Georgia Tech had to fear Brown tucking and running on the RPO. It freed up Jaylan Knighton — playing the lead role with leading rusher Henry Parrish Jr. out — to run for more than 100 yards for only the second time in his career.

Miami’s running game totaled 217 yards — the most since it ran for 305 yards against Bethune-Cookman — and the most against an FBS opponent since running for 220 yards against Duke in 2020. Gattis and Cristobal have always wanted to run the ball. Brown created the threat that allowed them to do it.

“He’s real dangerous because you don’t know who is gonna get it,” Knighton said. “I love playing with all the quarterbacks, but with Jacurri, he brings something to the table with his feet. Jacurri, on a day-to-day basis, he’s leading the pack. I knew the toughness inside him. Today was the day he had to step up … and he did it.”

Brown ran 19 times for 87 yards and took some licks. Afterward, he said his body felt fine from the adrenaline of winning. But Brown also acknowledged he needs to take care of his body more.

“I want to go to the league and play for a long time,” Brown said. “(The amount of carries) probably needs to come down so I can save my body. A lot of those runs, I need to go down, I need to get out of bounds. But that’s just that dog in me — just trying to get more yards to fight for this team. We’re fighting for W’s right now.”

2. Brown was fun to watch, and just as entertaining at the postgame podium. He sounds like the leader Miami needs.

Tyler Van Dyke (shoulder) made the trip to Atlanta to support his teammates, but it’s unclear if he’ll ever suit up for the Hurricanes again. He’s not only healing, but draft-eligible, and unless Miami improves its offensive line and receiver room, it’s unlikely he’ll come back after a rough season.

Brown didn’t dazzle with his accuracy downfield, but he finished 14 of 19 for 136 yards and didn’t turn the ball over. He also did a good job inspiring his teammates, displaying the kind of leadership and moxie needed from a starting quarterback.

Brown even took time to include Jake Garcia in a postgame live stream from the locker room, and credited Garcia for pushing him. That’s leadership.

“Jacurri went out there and he was tough,” center Jakai Clark said. “He’s a really good energy guy but still calm. Great listener. You can tell Jacurri anything — good, bad or anything. He’s a really respectful kid. In the huddle, he brings everybody a lot of energy.”

Said Cristobal: “He’s unfazed. Take some time to watch his high school film. It was the same demeanor tonight. Commanding presence, doesn’t get fazed. He’s physical, made some really good throws. I thought that slant he threw in the first half on the third down really sparked us to go down and score. He did a great job taking in the game plan, practicing well throughout the course of the week along with the other guys. He came out tonight and showed it. (We were) 7-for-12 on third down, and putting ourselves in good and manageable third-down situations certainly helped.”

Miami true freshman QB Jacurri Brown found his mother in the crowd after the game and gave her a big long hug. pic.twitter.com/4eFLxOuSnH

— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) November 13, 2022

Cristobal stopped short of saying he’ll start Brown next week at Clemson. Like any coach, he wants his next opponent to have an extra quarterback to have to prepare for. But unless Van Dyke is 100 percent (which he probably won’t be close to being), why mess with a good thing you’ve got going?

Plus, Brown can soar over dudes. And he’s fun.

“I hurdled two people in high school, but they were both flags because it’s illegal to hurdle in Georgia high school football,” said Brown, who took to the air to slip past a Georgia Tech defender as he was running out of bounds on a 13-yard run in the first half.

“You’ve got to have style points, man. That’s part of it. It was back like high school. You’ve got to have fun playing the game. That’s avoiding getting hit. When you can’t go through them, go over them.”

What about the two times he high-stepped his way down the field on runs in the second half — including a 24-yard burst to set up Miami’s third touchdown?

“Just being a baller, man,” Brown said. “(Quarterbacks) coach Ponce said he doesn’t want robots. He wants ballers. I was just balling out there.”

3. Cristobal’s patience could end up salvaging Knighton’s career at Miami.

After fumbling three times this season and having his role reduced significantly, kudos to Knighton for working his way back into being a solid contributor. With Parrish (concussion) out, Knighton took on the lead role and ran hard for the second week in a row. Most importantly, he didn’t fumble.

Kudos to Cristobal, too, for making Knighton earn the playing time.

“The best part about him is he has a lot of pride,” Cristobal said. “He fumbled earlier this season and everybody said play (him). No, let him earn it back. And he did. And he did it by spending a ton of time on ball security, running harder, understanding protection better. I don’t think people realize how well he protected (the ball) tonight.

“I’m just really fired up by Rooster and the way he played, but more importantly how he approached adversity. Because that’s what our team needs to keep growing. We’ve got to face our circumstances and adversity, come out and punch right back.”

If Knighton can keep the ball in his hands, he can help Miami win games. When the game was over, he sought out the collection of Miami fans in the corner of the end zone and celebrated with them.

“Things started rough for me, but I stayed the course,” said Knighton, who ran for 118 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to make it 28-7. “The fans showed me a lot today. We need our fans. We need love. We just came out with a gut W. They made everybody crunk.”

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Jaylan Knighton runs the ball against Georgia Tech in the second half. He finished with 118 yards on 16 carries and ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown. (Brett Davis / USA Today)

4. Kinchens has reached another level as a defender.

With his three interceptions, Kinchens became the first Hurricane since Kenny Phillips in 2006 to record three picks in the same game. Kinchens has six interceptions for the season, which ties him with Artie Burns for the second-most by a Miami defensive back since 2003. Kinchens leads the ACC in INTs.

The fact he’s developed into a ballhawk of this magnitude will only help Miami’s secondary going forward. It will make quarterbacks and opposing coordinators think twice about throwing his direction. That’s half the battle on defense.

“That guy, if you walk into our facility throughout the course of the week, at night, late into the night, he’ll be there just watching, studying, bringing in guys with him,” Cristobal said. “He’s exactly what you want on your football team. People forget. He’s only a sophomore, but he does a great job. He took a shot to the shoulder, shrugged it off, came right back in and kept going. Just an absolute stud.”

Kinchens said he knew Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks were targeting Nate McCollum quite a bit, and he made sure to shade his way. He credited fellow safety James Williams for rerouting McCollum on his second interception.

“That’s the goal,” Kinchens said of tying the program record for interceptions in a game. “You chase the greats.”

5. Miami’s defensive line is banged up and the depth is being tested.

The Hurricanes made the trip to Atlanta without defensive linemen Jared Harrison-Hunte, Elijah Roberts and Jake Lichtenstein, and lost starting defensive tackle Leonard Taylor to a left foot injury in the first half.

“I thought he was good to go, but apparently he got nicked up early on his ankle so we went with the other guys,” Cristobal said.

Miami held Georgia Tech to 129 yards rushing, but the challenge over the final two weeks of the regular season will be tougher. Both Clemson and Pittsburgh run the ball better than the Yellow Jackets.

(Top photo of Jacurri Brown: Brett Davis / USA Today)