Sports

Miami, embattled Diaz show grit, upset NC State

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — On a night when Miami honored its 2001 national champions, the current Hurricanes won a close game they desperately needed to win, beating NC State 31-30 on Saturday night.

A day after athletic director Blake James said he could not make any guarantees about the future for coach Manny Diaz, Miami played with renewed energy and determination behind freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. Van Dyke threw for 325 yards and four touchdowns, helping Miami end a two-game losing streak.

Afterward, Diaz declined to comment on James’ remarks, saying only, “Blake and I have a good relationship and have had a good relationship. But this is all about competition. Competitors want to compete, so whatever comes out 24 hours before kickoff — that either has something to do with our competition or it doesn’t. There’s nothing else I can say about that.”

Instead, Diaz wanted to focus on how good it felt to see his team get a win after two straight heartbreaking losses against Virginia and North Carolina.

“They could have come back Tuesday, Wednesday and who knows, we could have issues, we could have problems, and everybody comes back to work, practices great, prepares great,” Diaz said. “Friday run-through was the best all year — and despite that, it’s on a razor’s edge. It could have gone either way. They may all be like this — I’m just really proud their effort is rewarded.”

Diaz described the mental toughness and resiliency his team has shown, but he also pointed to comments Van Dyke made earlier in the week as a catalyst, too. Van Dyke said, “We feel really confident. … I don’t think they can stop us.”

NC State players used that as motivation both during the week and before the game, making sure to get in Van Dyke’s ear during warm-ups.

“We knew it was going to rile up NC State’s guys,” Diaz said. “Let’s let it rile up our guys. Because since we’ve lost D’Eriq [King], we’ve been waiting for somebody to make a play. Tyler with what he said, and that confidence he exerted, that’s a confidence our team had been missing. We doubled down on what he said.”

Miami took the opening kickoff and drove straight down the field, clearly wanting to make a statement. In a back-and-forth game, NC State took a 27-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. But Miami had been here before, as the past two games had come down to the fourth quarter, too.

This time Van Dyke delivered the plays that had to be made.

That included a huge third-down conversion to Will Mallory on the Canes’ last drive, as Miami held a 31-30 lead. That conversion allowed the Hurricanes to run out the clock on the win.

“The last couple games in those type of situations, we got stopped and couldn’t finish,” Van Dyke said. “Right there, it felt really good to everyone on the team to follow through with that.”

It was a special game for other reasons, as Miami celebrated the 20th anniversary of its last national championship team during halftime. Former players — including Najeh Davenport, Bryant McKinnie and Antrel Rolle — wore No. 26 Sean Taylor jerseys in honor of their late teammate, who was a freshman on the 2001 team. Former coach Larry Coker also made the trip.

That team continues to serve as a reminder of the standard at Miami. The exceedingly high expectations and pressure on the head coach at Miami will never go away, which is why so much criticism from his own fan base has been directed at Diaz this season.

Players said afterward they were not aware of the comments James made, but they do know how much it means to win.

“We love Coach Diaz,” Van Dyke said. “We’re going to keep fighting for him. We’re going to keep fighting for each other. He’s going to keep proving everyone wrong.”

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