MIAMI — Another year, another double-digit lead for Georgia Tech over Miami.
And another loss.
For whatever reason, the Yellow Jackets simply cannot find a way to beat the Hurricanes — and their chances of getting back to another Atlantic Coast Conference title game are quickly looking bleak.
Stephen Morris threw three touchdown passes, Duke Johnson finished with 325 all-purpose yards and the 14th-ranked Hurricanes shook off a problematic opening quarter to beat Georgia Tech 45-30 on Saturday, their fifth straight win in the series. The Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0 ACC) outscored the Yellow Jackets 38-6 over a 37-minute stretch, and outgained them 449-229 in the final three quarters.
"We didn't make enough plays to win," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Could we have won this game? Yeah, if we made a few more plays we could. But we weren't going to be able to win a game making mistakes. Not turning the ball over and missing opportunities and those kind of things."
A second-quarter fumble cost the Yellow Jackets (3-2, 2-2) a chance to take perhaps a 17-point lead, and a low snap on a point-after attempt in the fourth quarter essentially robbed Georgia Tech of a chance to tie the game.
They were little things, but they made a huge difference. And a year after blowing a 36-19 lead and losing to Miami at home, the Yellow Jackets flew home to Atlanta feeling a familiar sting Saturday night.
"It's frustrating," said running back David Sims, who ran for two scores for Georgia Tech. "The last couple of years we feel we had them on the ropes and we let them off each time."
Buoyed by Miami having three two-play drives — they resulted in a touchdown, fumble and interception — Georgia Tech ran 25 plays in the opening quarter, compared with six for the Hurricanes. The Yellow Jackets were rolling, up 17-7 and driving deep in Miami territory when quarterback Vad Lee fumbled the ball away.
Things changed quickly. Miami scored on the ensuing possession when Morris found Clive Walford, and the Hurricanes kept rolling.
"You really don't have any leadership until you have a bead of sweat and the crap hits the fan," Miami coach Al Golden said, borrowing a phrase from something his team was told over the summer. "And that's what happened. I think we learned a lot about our team. We had great leadership through that, we had great poise, but it did look bleak."
Morris shook off the lingering effects of a bone bruise in his right ankle to complete 17 of 22 passes for 324 yards, Dallas Crawford ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the win, and the Hurricanes averaged 10.4 yards per snap against a defense that was giving up 4.7 per play coming into Saturday.
"I'm proud to say that we're on the right track," Morris said. "But we've still got a lot of things to do."
Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford and Allen Hurns caught scoring passes for Miami, and Ladarius Gunter added a 30-yard interception return for another touchdown with 1:08 left.
Because Miami's early drives were ending so quickly, there was no time for the defense to make any adjustments on the sidelines. That didn't happen until halftime, when defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio drew up a few fixes.
"They fought through it," D'Onofrio said.
Sims' 7-yard run opened the scoring, marking the first time since the Virginia game last season — 47 calendar weeks ago — that Miami faced a deficit, one that wound up lasting a mere 32 seconds. Duke Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Miami 27, ran 33 yards on the Hurricanes' first snap, and Morris found Dorsett for a 40-yard score on the very next play.
But with the score 17-7 after Charles Perkins' 31-yard scoring run, Miami was in a two-score hole for the first time since facing Florida State last Oct. 20.
"You couldn't have scripted a better start," said Paul Johnson, who is now 34-4 at Georgia Tech when his teams score more than 28 points — two of those four losses coming in the past two seasons to Miami. "We were holding the ball, keeping the ball away from them. Had a couple of turnovers early and felt we had a lot of momentum. Then we turned it back which really hurt us."
Hurns' 69-yard catch-and-run late in the third Miami on top for good. After Dorsett fumbled a punt away to open the fourth, Georgia Tech answered with Sims' second score of the game, and seemed poised to tie the game at 24-all.
But Trevor Stroebel's snap on the point-after attempt was low, Harrison Butker's kick went left, and Miami was energized — scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the first time since Oct. 8, 2011.
"We came out fast," Lee said. "But they just finished."