Well, Canes fans, how are you feeling?
From the reactions I'm seeing on twitter and hearing in person, you guys are pretty pumped that Brad Kaaya has been named the starting QB. And, there's plenty to be pumped about.
But, like all moves with freshmen and ESPECIALLY with the position of Quarterback, there are plenty of issues to consider. So, let's begin...
Kaaya has to be the guy all season
This is the main concern for me. You can't have a short leash on him. You can't pull him at the first sign of trouble. You can't automatically sit him when Ryan Williams returns from his ACL injury.
For this to work, to make it worth burning Kaaya's redshirt on the first snap of the first game, you have to play him the full season. Good or bad. Thick and thin. Success and struggle. He has to be the guy.
Now, we saw how Kaaya progressed from 4th to 1st on the depth chart in just 3 weeks of camp. It's fair to assume that he will continue to get better as the season goes on. He is easily the most physically gifted player at the Quarterback position on the roster, and the ceiling for his future development seems limitless.
All of that being said, you still can't play with his mind. I know there are stories of Kaaya being unflappable, but pulling him in and out of games would hurt his development in a way that I don't think is acceptable or manageable.
Al Golden and James Coley chose Brad Kaaya to start. Now, they have to have the fortitude to stick with him, no matter what.
Kaaya isn't alone
One of the biggest assets to help any quarterback, but especially young ones, is a solid supporting cast. This is something that the Canes definitely have. Look at this chart of all of the skill position players who figure to see time with Kaaya this fall:
|Running Backs||Wide Receivers||Tight Ends|
|Duke Johnson||Stacy Coley||Clive Walford|
|Gus Edwards||Philip Dorsett||Standish Dobard|
|Joseph Yearby||Malcolm Lewis||Beau Sandland|
|Trayone Gray||Herb Waters||Jake O'Donnell|
|Walter Tucker (FB)||Rashawn Scott||Raphael Akpejiori|
Yes, Scott is injured right now. Yes, Akpejiori, the former basketball player, is raw. No, Walter Tucker won't be the focal point in the running game. But, just look at that skill position talent. That group, led by 2 of the elite players in America, RB Duke Johnson and WR Stacy Coley, has a wide range of skills that will help the offense overall, and Kaaya specifically, be successful.
Add in a deep and talented offensive line, led by LT Ereck Flowers, and Kaaya will have 10 players on the field with him at all times who, in some way, will be helping to put him in the best position possible for success.
Yes, starting a freshman QB will impact the game plans. While Kaaya is reportedly wise beyond his years, he still hasn't faced college defenses. So, to help him be successful, the play calls may be slightly more vanilla than if, say, Ryan Williams (who has been in this offense for 3 years) were starting from day 1.
Obviously, this will be seen in the passing game. The running game will stay the same, and might even see more daring/avant-garde calls. And, when you have players like Duke Johnson at running back, simple plays like 50 gut can turn in to long touchdowns.
Now, as far as the passing game is concerned, Offensive Coordinator James Coley has to figure out which routes/concepts Kaaya has the most success with, and base the passing system around that.
Some popular concepts used at every level of football are
(Dual Crossing routes through the middle of the defense. Can be used vs Man or Zone.)
(Inward breaking routes at different depths - look at the A and Z receivers)
(Outside receiver runs a curl, nearest inside receiver next to him runs a flag route. Read corner. If he sinks to the flag, throw the curl. If he jumps the curl, throw the flag behind him. Easy money. Alabama used this concept almost exclusively to beat LSU for the National Championship back in 2012)
(Quick passing staple for, literally, every football team ever)
(In this case, H receiver finds the first down markers, and turns around. IE, he runs to the sticks)
(Receivers run to a specified depth, and turn around toward QB)
Shallow cross with a Post-Wheel combo
(This is actually a staple of Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino's offense. Single receiver (Y) runs a shallow crossing route, outside receiver to bunch/trips side (X) runs a post (ostensibly occupying the safety to that side of the field), and back/slot receiver to bunch/trips side (in this case, the Z) runs a wheel up the numbers behind the post)
And, everybody's favorite on the no-longer-manufactured NCAA football games
4 Verticals (or, as Mike Leach famously calls it, "6")
(All Play diagrams from smartfootball.com)
I anticipate we see all of those in some form this year. But, Coley has to lean on the ones that Kaaya does well with, and use the other ones (and other concepts not covered above) based upon the situation of the game.
Defense matters to the QB, too
Okay. Let's try to approach this part with some sanity and decorum.
Take a deep breath. Relax
Now, let's continue.
The defense has to do a better job of competing in games and, more importantly, getting off the field in 3rd down situations. This was something they struggled with for the past few years. We all know the statistics. We don't need to rehash them yet again.
My point, however, is that with a strong defense, one that can dominate the line of scrimmage, keep opponents from scoring, and stop their drives before they get started, makes the situation for the offense more manageable.
Could Kaaya lead us to wins in shootouts all season? Possible, but doubtful. Could he lead us to wins when the defense is holding teams to 17 or less? While that is not guaranteed, that scenario is far more likely.
This defense has talent. This defense has depth. This defense finally has Miami Caliber players at every single position, whether they are veterans or rookies. They have size, speed, and an edge that we haven't seen in many years.
In short, this defense has all the tools to not only be successful, but make the offense's job infinitely easier. And, for Kaaya to be the QB we all think and hope he can, the Defense will have to do their part as well.
No matter what recruits may say about academics, or family atmosphere, or college tradition, there's one thing that we pretty much know trumps all of that:
Kids don't WANT to go to a school and sit for 3 or 4 years before they get a chance to see the field. They want to play, and they want to play early. And, Al Golden has proven that Miami is a place where that can, and does, happen.
I know what you're going to say. "That's because the team was bad" or "We didn't have any talent, so the young kids had to play." And, to an extent, you're right. But, as we continue to build this program back to being a championship contender, I don't foresee Golden keeping his most talented players on the sidelines.
Over the past few years, Miami has played a high number of freshmen. From Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley to Tracy Howard and Anthony Chickillo, Freshmen have been seen in starting, or otherwise prominent positions.
However, none are as prominent as Kaaya. While there are multiple available spots for WRs or LBs or DLs to play at the same time, but there's only 1 QB on the field at a time.
Kaaya winning this job proves to incoming recruits that if you perform, you'll play. And, in today's age of instant gratification, that cannot be overlooked as this season and recruiting cycle progress.
Al Golden doesn't care what you think
For all the people who said a loss to Louisville would put him on the hot seat, to all the people who say anything short of 10 wins, the ACC Championship game, or whatever else, to all the people who want to speculate on Golden's job security, he just gave you a huge double middle fingers.
Look, we all thought that Golden would go the conservative route and start Heaps. After having seen his über reliance on Stephen Morris, even when he struggled mightily at times last year, the reasonable choice was for Golden to go with the star-crossed grad transfer and try to ride things out.
With this more, Golden told everybody to take their conventional wisdom and shove it.
This is, without question, the boldest move Golden has made in his time as coach of the Hurricanes. It has an edge of confidence that we haven't previously seen. And, I like it.
Al Golden and James Coley brought Brad Kaaya here to be the future.
That future begins Monday, September 1st in Louisville.
Now, it's time to see what this kid is made of.