The Hurricanes needed an early season cupcake to take advantage of and that is exactly what they got Saturday night as they defeated the Florida A&M Rattlers 41-7 before an announced crowd of 48,254 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya showed some signs of improvement, but still looked shaky. He threw off of his front foot a lot and did not step into his throws the way a confident and seasoned quarterback would. However, he came out with moxie and was firing the ball into the hands of UM receivers. Kaaya went 12 of 22 for 177 yards, threw two touchdowns and suffered two interceptions, He has three scores and four interceptions on the young season. Miami still suffered on third down as they were a dismal 2 of 10 on the evening.
Offensive coordinator James Coley opened the playbook up ever so little and let Kaaya do what he was brought to UM to do, throw the ball and score. Kaaya played into the third quarter before being relieved by fifth-year senior Jake Heaps, who finished the night 5 of 8 for 41 yards.
Tight end Clive Walford and wide recevier Philip Dorsett were Kaaya's favorite early targets. Walford caught two passes for 31 yards, but had a lot of balls thrown his way. Dorsett caught three passes for 44 yards and two scores. Braxton Berrios looked good and caught six balls for 63 yards and led the game in receiving. He made two drive extending catches on third and fourth downs. Berrios also saw action as a punt returner in the second half.
"I feel like the interceptions weren't his fault," Dorsett said after the game. Berrios chimed in after the game, "We have to improve in every area on offense."
Dorsett also commented on the improved pass protection that Kaaya got. "We made a pact with the offensive line not to let any defensive player touch him (Kaaya)"
Duke Johnson led all rushers with 98 yards on nine carries. He also scored a touchdown. Joe Yearby saw significant action in the second half and rushed for 95 yards on 14 carries. Freshman and late arrival Trayone Gray entered the game in the fourth quarter and scored on a ten-yard run, his first collegiate carry.
"We have a long way to go as an offense," Johnson said after the game. "Every guy on the offense has more steps to take to get better."
UM's defense continued to impress. Despite a few mental lapses in the secondary, they were creating havoc in the Rattler backfield the whole night. They had three sacks on the night, with Thurston Armbrister collecting two of them with another two tackles for loss. Denzel Perryman, who left the game with a shoulder injury (reportedly just a bruise), had six tackles in the first half. For the second consecutive game, Miami's defense caused two turnovers. They held the Rattlers to 114 yards of total offense on the evening, while the UM offense rolled up a season high 414.
"They are a cohesive bunch right now," Golden said after the game.
"The sack caused fumble is the most exciting play in football," Chickillo said. "And this is the second game in a row that he got one.
Miami was still conservative in its play calling, but James Coley finally let Kaaya throw a deep post to Dorsett in the second quarter that was good for 32 yards and a UM touchdown. The score made it 28-0 Miami and pretty much sealed the game for UM. It also showed the UM following that Kaaya can throw the deep ball.
Golden said after the game that they intentionally held out Stacey Coley, Johnson and Perryman in the second half.
One thing that Kaaya does need to work on this week is his timing with his receivers, which will eventually get better. Kaaya appeared late on many of his throws and threw behind his receivers instead of leading them to the football. His second interception came on a slant to Walford that was thrown two steps behind him. If he led him on the play, it could have gone for big yardage.
"I don't know if I am satisfied with anything right now," Golden said. "We need to go back and analyze everything about this game."
FAMU got their touchdown in the first half when Ronnie Regula snapped the ball over UM punter Justin Vogel's head and rolled around deep in the UM zone. Instead of falling on the ball Vogel tried to pick it up and was smothered on the play and it was picked up by John Boston in the end zone for the Rattler score. Miami's special teams woes continued. Matt Goudis also missed two field goals on the evening.
"I don't know where that came from," Golden said after the game. "He (Regula) has been consistent since this summer."
Kaaya took control of the game early. He completed passes to three different UM receivers on the first drive and punctuated it with a four-yard strike to Dorsett to give Miami a quick 7-0 lead. The drive took less than two minutes and covered 49 yards. Kaaya showed his maturity with an audible on the 17 yard line where he checked off the pass and handed the ball to Duke who ran for 13 yards and a Hurricane first down.
On the next drive, Kaaya was intercepted in the end zone by Miami native Darren Parker. He was throwing the fade route to Herb Waters who did not fight for the ball or try to catch it at its highest point. The stat will go against Kaaya, but Waters was at fault for night fighting for the football.
Miami got the ball back on a FAMU turnover as Rattler quarterback Damien Fleming was mugged by Armbrister who had a strip sack and the ball was recovered by Anthony Chickillo.
A personal foul penalty put the ball at the Rattler 13. On first down Duke carried the ball go the goal line. He scored one play later to give Miami a 14-0 first quarter lead. Duke's 29 first quarter yards moved him into ninth place all-time on UM's career rushing list. He surpassed Frank Gore. In the second quarter he would surpass Edgerrin James for eighth place.
Armbrister has been playing like a man possessed. He chased Louisville's quarterback all over the field Monday night and did the same thing Saturday night against FAMU. Armbrister had a fumble recovery during the loss at Louisville and also had a sack.
Johnson showed his typical brilliance Saturday night in the second quarter with a 55-yard run that took the ball deep into Rattler territory. He cut back twice on the play and outran the first two levels of the Rattler defense. Three plays later Gus Edwards scored on a 15-yard run to give Miami a 21-0 lead. Miami went 83 yards in four plays in 2:21.
Kc McDermott entered the game in the second quarter after Taylor Gadbois was flagged for holding on a play that Kaaya rolled out and completed a pass to the sidelines. McDermott was flagged for a false start on the point after touchdown on the same drive. He was also called for holding on a 3rd and 1 in the third quarter. He rotated the remainder of the game with Gadbois.
Miami (1-1) will face Arkansas State next week at Sun Life Stadium, while FAMU has an open week before returning home to face Coastal Carolina.
The 'Canes still have much to work on.