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Monday Musings: Kaaya should return; losing the winnables; firing legends

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1) Kaaya could use another year in college

Look, first of all, don’t interpret this as a slam on Brad Kaaya. That’s not what it’s designed to be. If the past two weeks have shown us anything, there’s been enough blame to pass around more times than the turkey and fixins at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving feasts.

The offensive line has gone full turnstile/sieve against good, but not dominant pass rushes. The running lanes that were there against Appy State and the Florida second tier foes haven’t been there.

And when they’ve been there, our backs haven’t taken advantage of them like they should’ve.

Games change on a handful of plays. Key words hand. As in our wide receivers’ collective inability to use them and hang onto the football. 5 drops. Can’t happen.

Defensively, with Shaq Quarterman, Gerald Willis, Chad Thomas, Michael Pinckney, Demetrius Jackson, Courtel Jenkins (among others) all either out or playing through injuries, the paper-thin Canes did what they could to keep the game manageable. And credit to the toughness of that group, and Manny Diaz’s tweaks to keep the Heels off the board in the second half.

It’s when I read about Brad Kaaya as an early first round pick where I’m pumping the brakes a bit right now. Look, we’ve seen plenty of plays where he wows you with top-notch ability…..maybe none moreso than against Appy State. The arm strength to gun that ball all the way across the field for Braxton Berrios to lay out and drag a toe for what probably was the most dynamic throw and catch of the year so far. The dimes he laid into Ahmmon Richards that paced the Canes’ drives that put the dagger in the Mountaineers. The fade pattern to Coley against FSU was a thing of beauty……done on 4th and 5 under the most nail-nibbling pressure of the season.

But there just haven’t been enough of those moments where it’s clear he’s playing like a man among boys. Nor a stretch of play against quality ACC competition where you could say, “yep, he’s an elite-level power 5 quarterback”. It just hasn’t happened. Nor have the road wins. The clutch moments in hostile environments.

Look, it would be silly to say “you’re projected to be a top-10 pick; don’t go to the draft.” If you have a chance to sign your name and have the ability to take care of yourself and your family the rest of your life, get froggy and jump at it.

And if he goes, scouts will probably fawn over his physical tools. And he has them. He has the tools to be a good pro.

He just hasn’t put it all together yet. And that’s what I am saying: I haven’t seen enough from Kaaya to make me believe he’s going to go to the league and be a long-term starting QB. I’m hoping he will be able to evaluate his mistakes, work on the things he needs to work on in the offseason, and improve in 2017 – in ACC play.

The Canes need Kaaya, and quite frankly, I think Kaaya need the Canes and an ACC slate for another year to help him get to where he needs to go professionally. At least, from what I’ve seen through 7 weeks of the 2016 season. And I’m apparently not alone either. Feel free to disagree.

2) Losing the winnables: a Coastal mantra

This UNC game felt like one the Canes should’ve found a way to win. Maybe if they were a touch healthier, especially in the front 7. Or maybe if whoever was watching the replay of the UNC bobbled “touchdown” had called it like it should have been – incomplete. Maybe if the Cane WRs hold on to a couple of those drops. Maybe maybe maybe.

Instead, it’s another season of a muddled Coastal division – and with the Canes stuck squarely with their faces in several teams’ butts in the standings as per usual in mid-October.

And it’s not just the Canes dropping games they should win. The Coastal division has been a clinic in win-a-good-one-lose-a-bad-one from week to week. Or on how to completely turn your division into a smoldering 6-car pileup on the freeway to the ACC Championship game in Orlando.

How Bud Foster’s seemingly-superhuman Hokie defense managed to go to Syracuse – one week after holding UNC to 3 points in Chapel Hill – and let the less talented Cuse put 31 points on the board. Pittsburgh melts at Chapel Hill on the final play, but rallies at Virginia, who were a week removed from coming from behind at Duke for their first ACC win.

The end result of this football cannibalism is four Coastal teams with one loss, all sitting ahead of Miami in the standings.

And now the Canes go to Blacksburg Thursday night, sitting in fourth place in the Coastal at 1-2, needing a win to stave off joining Duke and Georgia Tech in the proverbial stands and out of contention for a trip to Orlando.

Hopefully the battered and hurting Canes can show some resolve and upset the Hokies before a national audience. After all, wouldn’t that be the expected thing from this quirky division?

3. (Back)firing hires

Once upon a time, there was some guy named Phillip Fulmer. You might have heard of him. He was just one year removed from winning the SEC East divisional crown in 2007, but injuries, incompetent quarterback play, and some bad breaks turned 2008 into a nightmare season for the Vols. Former AD Mike Hamilton saw that the grass was greener on the other side, or so he thought, and canned the local legend.

In favor of Lake Kiffin, who flaked and ran to USC. Then Derek Dooley, who had the coaching acumen of a dead rat. Now Butch Jones has the Vols, in position to maybe make a trip to Atlanta for the first time in 9 years……if the Gators stumble at least one more time.

The point is, Georgia Bulldogs, the grass isn’t always greener, and firing a well-established coach in favor of a hot name can be a disaster that sets your program back for years. Sure, Kirby Smart is a Bulldog through and through, and thrived under Saban. But getting Derrick Mason’d at home by a team that couldn’t win an SEC road game for love or money? That ain’t good. Smart will get his fair shake (which nowadays is 3 years), but many an antenna was raised last Saturday.

4. Pick of the week

Thanks to Virginia Tech laying a dud in the Carrier Dome, I sit at 6-2-1 on the year ATS. This week, the Hogs head to Auburn, where they’re getting 10 points, for some odd reason. The Hogs survived a tough test last week against Chad Kelly and the Rebels, and they’ll do what they’ve done all year – win, or lose in a dog fight. Give me the Hogs. Auburn 27, (+10) Arkansas 24.