Somewhere with a smile Saturday evening, surely reflecting on another dramatic win, University of Miami coach Manny Diaz had to toast not just his good season but his great planning last winter in finding the player who has singularly changed his program.
D’Eriq King put on the cape and did it again Saturday. The Miami quarterback didn’t just lead a come-from-behind win against Virginia Tech, 25-24. He didn’t just help raise Miami’s record to 7-1. He didn’t just assure every goal is still on the table for Miami’s stretch run.
On Saturday, with an assist from the defense, King added one more feat to a portfolio edging to weekly greatness: King saved Diaz’s coaching staff from a week in talk-radio purgatory for some goofy trick plays that would have been the margin of a loss.
Instead, as Miami celebrated another Saturday, the conversation was about what it rightfully overcame. There was a glut of positive COVID-19 tests that Diaz said put the game “on the brink” of being canceled, hitting the offensive line especially hard.
There also was some in-game play Miami overcame. Down 14-3 in the first half, King followed a perfect 20-yard throw to Dee Wiggins with a smart 10-yard run for a touchdown. Down 24-13 in the third quarter, King passed for 46 yards on a touchdown drive.
Still down 24-19 in the fourth quarter, with Miami’s defense throttling Virginia Tech, King made the decision of the day. He saw the Virginia Tech safety bite on a run-pass option that left a linebacker on receiver Mark Pope across the middle.
"A simple play,'' he called it. “I knew Pope was going to win.”
King’s numbers weren’t eye-popping like his 450 yards passing and five touchdowns in staving off an upset last week at North Carolina State. He completed 24 of 38 passes for 255 yards and had one passing and one running touchdown.
But he had little line help, too. He was sacked six times. Maybe that played into the odd decisions for the trick plays that cost Miami four points at a minimum. If King isn’t King, if this defense doesn’t come on in the second half, those are the plays everyone’s talking about, too.
First quarter. Fourth-and-3. Ball at the Virginia Tech 30-yard line. Diaz puts King on the sideline to kick a field goal. But it’s a fake field goal. Kicker Jose Borregales runs the ball and is stopped short. OK, failed trick plays look bad. But why not put the ball in your best player’s hands if going on fourth down?
Fast forward to the third quarter. Virginia Tech leads, 24-19. Put the ball in King’s hands to decide the two-point conversion, right? Instead, from the 2-yard line, King moves to the right and throws back to 312-pound offensive lineman Zion Nelson, who failed to get into the end zone.
On another day, with a different outcome, those failed plays are the story. But you play the result in sports and what a day it became for Miami. They’re trending to the ACC title game. They deserve credit, too, for winning in this virus-laden week.
Diaz’s first words after the game were: “Wow, that’s all I can say. Wow. What an effort. The resilience of this team week in and week out is special.”
What Diaz did best Saturday started last winter. He got King from the transfer portal. He got offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to unleash this offense, too.
“One thing about King, he’s going to be himself, fourth quarter or not,” said Pope, who had four catches for 50 yards. “I’m for him. I’m going to help him get the job done.”
The NCAA changed rules to allow this year’s players another year of eligibility. King, by such decree, has another year at Miami if he wants. That will depend what the NFL tells him. College football’s decision is in.
Saturday after Saturday, he’s the reason Miami has turned its fortune around this year.
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