Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya connected with Philip Dorsett on three long pass plays, two of which went for touchdowns as the Hurricanes defeated Arkansas State 41-20 before a paid attendance of 41,519 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Offensive coordinator James Coley has been under fire in recent weeks for being too vanilla in his play calling and for not allowing his quarterback to open up the offense. He satisfied the fan base in UM's victory Saturday afternoon. The Canes dialed long distance all afternoon and the offense looked real sharp heading into next week's battle at Nebraska.
Kaaya went 16 of 23 for 342 yards and four touchdown passes in the victory. He threw one interception late in the game. It was by far his greatest day as a Hurricane. Kaaya put the ball out in front of the receivers where they could run and catch it and was on time with his throws. Kaaya exited the game briefly in the third quarter and came back in the fourth with a little less than ten minutes to play.
"Brad definitely benefited from this full week of practice. His timing was better and we gave him tie to throw," Miami coach Al Golden said after the game. "We have been very precise all week and this did not surprise me one bit."
The 342 yards by Kaaya was the best in the history of the program by a true freshman.
"I have a lot of confidence in Brad," said senior tight end Clive Walford, who finished the game with three receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown. "We have developed good chemistry together and I want to be his check down, go to receiver.
"He's a humble kid," Walford said of Kaaya. "He came into the locker room and had a smile on his face, but it was just business as usual for him. The plays that you saw him make today are no different than the plays that he makes every day in practice."
Dorsett, meanwhile, became only the third receiver in the history of the University of Miami to have more than 200 yards receiving in a single game. Dorsett finished the day with 201 yards on only four receptions and touchdowns of 63 and 67 yards respectively.
'I told him before the game that he was going to have a big game," Golden said of Dorsett. "I did not imagine it being this big. He is catching the ball real well and is making the in routes better."
Kaaya did not waste any time getting started. Kaaya found Dorsett wide open on a deep post and the Canes scored on the 63 yard catch and run. Kaaya, who has come under fire for throwing behind his receivers and not putting enough on his throws, put enough air under the ball where all Dorsett had to do was keep running and he would run right into it.
"We have confidence in Brad," said running back Duke Johnson. "I can say that he grew up today. We protected him and gave him an opportunity to throw. He is capable of big things."
The Red Wolves came right back and scored to tie the game up at 7. After getting the ball at their own 35 after Justin Vogel's kickoff went out of bounds, Arkansas State marched 65 yards in 11 plays before quarterback Fredi Knighton scored from one yard out. On the drive the Red Wolves found soft spots in the UM zone and took advantage of poor tackling by the UM secondary.
"We are growing. We have gotten better," Golden said. "Today we had tremendous second and third effort. Some of the effort today was exceptional."
Kaaya struck again in the first quarter as he found Clive Walford for a 19-yard touchdown. This came after they Kaaya hit Dorsett on a 51-yard play that put the Canes in the red zone.
Johnson scored on a 33-yard run to give Miami a 20-7 lead late in the first quarter. Johnson took the hand off and went around right tackle and scored on the long run. The play was originally a pass, but was changed at the line by Kaaya who saw a soft spot in the defense for Duke run through.
"That was all him," Golden said of Kaaya changing the play.
The play pushed Johnson into eighth place overall on the UM career rushing list past Willis McGahee. "El Duque" finished the game with 90 yards on 14 carries. He did not see too much action in the second half. The Canes finished the day with 146 yards rushing.
"Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys is very nice," Johnson said after the game. "It is a big honor for me and my family."
Miami did not do much in the second quarter until Gus Edwards broke four tackles en route to a 27-yard touchdown run. Artex Brown looked like he was going to make the tackle on the 15, as he was holding on for all he was worth, but Edwards used his massive legs to burst through the tackle and score the touchdown.
In the third quarter, with UM leading 27-14, Dorsett was called on again and scored from 67 yards out to give Miami a 34-14 lead. With the reception Dorsett toppled the 200 yard mark for only the third time in Hurricanes history. Only Eddie Brown and Wesley Carroll have enjoyed better days at UM.
"Philip is very quick," Golden said. "He worked really hard this week and his efforts in practice always translate to what he does on the field."
Braxton Berrios, a key contributor on third downs for UM, played well in Stacey Coley's absence. He caught three passes for 44 yards and a score. He caught Kaaya's fourth touchdown of the game with 4:11 left in the third quarter. The UM record for most passing touchdowns in a game is five, accomplished last by Stephen Morris against North Carolina State in 2012.
The Hurricanes run defense looked good in the first half, but broke down in the second. This was due mainly to the rotational changes that Golden made in getting backups some quality repetitions. The secondary allowed the Red Wolves to hang around in the first half and to get first downs when they should have been put in punting situations. Deon Bush missed three crucial tackles in one one one situations and Artie Burns was late getting to the ball on several occasions.
"They (Arkansas State) executed real well, but we were tight in the red zone," Golden said. "We still need to get off the field a little quicker on defense.'
The Red Wolves gained 329 yards on 89 plays and Golden was overall pleased with the effort that he got from his defense.
"I thought we were physical today. That is a good team that we faced. They are triple conference champions," Golden said. "They have won a lot of games and you can see why. Their quarterback made some plays.
"I don't know all the stats, but there were too many plays allowed," Golden said. That's a team that executes on a high level and we were able to hold them to 329 yards on 89 plays. I can't do the math, but that's pretty good."
The loss by the Red Wolves marked the first time in four years that they lost back to back games. They suffered a 34-19 loss as Tennessee last week.
Thurston Armbrister had a sack in the fourth quarter that extended his streak to three games with a sack. He has had one in each game thus far.
Miami's special teams was the lone sore spot on the day. Aside from a missed point after by Michael Badgley who replaced the injured Matt Goudis, Justin Vogel continued to struggle. His punts will look good statistically as they were not returned, but the low liners with no hang time are going to cause problems against a better, quicker opponent. He does not give his coverage team enough time to get downfield. Vogel has the same problem on his kickoffs as they die at about the eight yard line on an average and he does not have enough hang time on the kicks to allow the coverage team to get down and cover the kicks.
Red Wolves kick returner, Daryl Rollins, a true freshman running back, recorded five kickoff returns for 125 yards, the most by Arkansas State this season.
'He (Vogel) kicked the ball off to the five and got only a 3.77 second hang time," Golden said of one of Vogel's kicks that were returned. "You need at least a four second hang time to the five. That was a disaster for us."
Golden is taking nothing for granted heading into next week's game at Nebraska.
"I hope we're more mature. I think we're growing. I thought we got better this week. We're not a finished product, not where we want to be yet," Golden said. "But, I thought we did get better and it showed out here today If we were looking ahead and weren't focused, we wouldn't have thrown it around the way we did."