After No. 9 Miami beat Virginia Tech 25-24 with yet another fourth-quarter comeback, Miami coach Manny Diaz said the game was "on the brink" of being postponed after coronavirus-related issues left the Hurricanes thin at key positions.
Miami had 13 players unavailable on Saturday, a week after having 11 players unavailable for a win at NC State. Though the Hurricanes did not explicitly list reasons so many players were out, Diaz said they had to wait until the final coronavirus tests before making an ultimate determination about playing.
"We were on the brink [of not playing], and the players' attitude was the most telling," Diaz said in his postgame comments. "They wanted to play, and we were right on the brink at some position groups whether we could even function as a team. Some guys had to step up.
"We were really down on numbers at offensive line. It makes it hard to practice. It makes it hard to do anything, but no one cares, right? You go play a game and there's no excuses. The players came here to win the game. I told them I thought they won the game on Friday with their mentality and their attitude with all the things we had to go through this week."
Diaz said the Hurricanes lost players gradually as the week went on. Among the missing: two starters on the offensive line, starting linebacker Zach McCloud and multiple key contributors on the defensive line. As Miami kept losing players, Diaz said practicing became more difficult, citing an inability to get enough looks from their practice squad.
"It's what 2020 is," Diaz said. "You come to work and you find out what you've got to deal with that day. There's no easy days. There's always something you have to adjust to. The players, they're the ones that got to play, and this is their finite time in their career and it's a next-man-up mentality. They just soldier on."
Considering all the missing players over the past two weeks, the way Miami has been able to win is all the more impressive. Last week, the Hurricanes overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat NC State 44-41 when D'Eriq King threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Mike Harley.
This week, the visiting Hurricanes erased a 24-19 fourth-quarter deficit when King found Mark Pope on a 36-yard touchdown passes. The Miami defense, meanwhile, held Virginia Tech scoreless for the final 19 minutes of the game.
In both contests, the Hurricanes had their fair share of shaky moments in the early going, but Diaz has made it a point of emphasis this season for Miami to become a fourth-quarter team.
That is something that was not necessarily the case in recent years for Miami, which was more likely to find ways to lose games as opposed to finding ways to win. But Diaz has worked hard to shift that mindset, crediting the way the Hurricanes practice and run their strength and conditioning program for allowing Miami to be the fresher team as a game progresses.
"I would say this team is a fourth-quarter team," King said. "Coach Diaz makes us pride ourselves on being a fourth-quarter team. Finding ways to win, it's big. It was a rough week for us, didn't know if we were going to play or not, but we came out here and played. We found a way."
Now, Miami moves to 7-1 on the season, and its victory snapped a program-record, four-game losing streak as an AP Top 10 team.
"It's definitely a lot of positive energy and a lot of belief in the locker room right now," said defensive end Jaelan Phillips, who with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss had his best game since coming to Miami from UCLA. "Every week, we're becoming stronger as a team. All facets of our team are improving. We're feeling more together; we're feeling more confident. I'm excited about what we have going on."