MIAMI – Since the day he took over at Miami, Al Golden has said the path for the Hurricanes to get back into the national picture starts with winning the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
The Hurricanes now control the path to that title.
Stephen Morris threw for two early touchdowns, both set up by Virginia Tech special-teams miscues, and Miami took a major step forward in the chase for a berth in the conference title game by beating the Hokies 30-12 on Thursday night.
The Hurricanes were outgained 421-347, went 1 for 12 on third down, and managed exactly 3 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter. And in the end, somehow, none of that mattered.
"It's critical," said Golden, the Hurricanes' second-year coach. "Again, I know everybody wants us to be national champions yesterday and get back to BCS games and all that, but the reality of it is the pathway through that is the Coastal. It's almost like we have to re-educate our team. They have to understand, that's how you get there."
The message seems to have been received.
Duke Johnson had a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished with 217 all-purpose yards for the Hurricanes (5-4, 4-2), who snapped a three-game slide. The division is hardly a done deal, however — Miami has conference games left with Virginia and Duke, both on the road.
Logan Thomas had a 73-yard scoring run on a quarterback draw for Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3), which lost to Miami for just the third time in the last 10 meetings. The loss also ensures the Hokies' streak of eight straight 10-win seasons will end this year.
"I don't fault our effort," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "I fault our execution. We didn't do the things to win the football game."
The win puts Miami a half-game ahead of Duke and North Carolina in the Coastal race, though the Tar Heels are ineligible for postseason play, including the ACC title game.
"This game really helps us," Johnson said.
The Hokies and Hurricanes are two of the best teams on Thursday night — a combined 34-8 record entering the game, Virginia Tech with a 19-5 mark, Miami 15-3.
And the Hokies were 25-2 in ACC games played in November.
Now, they're 25-3, all three losses coming to Miami, and the Hokies had plenty of chances in this one. Most were wasted, like getting only two field goals in four trips to the red zone, and the Hokies wound up falling for the fourth time in their last five games.
"We haven't got it fixed yet," said Beamer, whose team is 0-5 away from home this season. "But I'm not going to give up trying, I'll tell you that."
Virginia Tech ran 82 plays to the Hurricanes' 58, held the ball for more than 34 minutes, picked up 24 first downs to Miami's 15, and still lost. A blocked punt led to one Miami touchdown, a big return by Johnson set up another, and that was pretty much all Miami needed.
"It's a weird feeling," Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said. "Things are not going our way."
Thomas was 19 for 37 for 199 yards and two interceptions, and rushed 22 times for 124 yards. Morris completed 13 of 28 passes for 170 yards.
For years, special teams were an absolute strength of Beamer's teams at Virginia Tech — so much so, they earned the moniker "Beamer Ball." But on Thursday, not only did the Hokies allow the blocked punt (a play where Virginia Tech's A.J. Hughes mishandled the snap before trying to get the kick away) and an 81-yard return by Johnson, but kicker Cody Journell also missed a field goal and a point-after attempt.
And eventually, Miami broke through.
The Hurricanes failed to convert any of their first nine third-down attempts, but when Morris connected with Rashawn Scott for 26 yards in the fourth quarter, Miami was in business. Five plays later, Johnson plowed just across the goal line, putting Miami — clad in an all-orange ensemble, a pregame surprise to the team by Golden — up by 15.
"I just wanted them to have fun. I think they were excited about it," Golden said of the uniform switch. "Guess that means we have to keep wearing them."
The first quarter set the tone for everything. Virginia Tech ran 26 plays to Miami's seven, outgained the Hurricanes 129-36 and had its offense was on the field for all but 2:29 of the period — and trailed 14-3.
Miami's two touchdown drives were a combined 35 yards, lasting four plays. Gabe Terry's blocked punt started a drive that ended with Morris finding Allen Hurns with a 16-yard scoring pass, and the long return by Johnson led to Morris hitting Mike James for another touchdown, also from 16 yards out.
"We're excited, just to come out and get in the drivers' seat of the Coastal," Johnson said. "But we still have Coastal games to win."