After 4 straight losses, Miami looked to right the ship as they returned home to Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday afternoon. They were able to do just that, beating Pittsburgh 51-28 on Homecoming 2016.
For Miami, it was a tour de force on offense from the opening kickoff. The Canes marched down the field in 6 plays, capped off by a touchdown pass from QB Brad Kaaya to TE David Njoku. Just as you see in the cover photo, Njoku — helped by a nice block by Braxton Berrios, leapt over a Pitt defender on his way to the endzone. You want to see this play, I’m sure. So, here you go:
Enjoy this great play from @David_Njoku80 @TheStateOfTheU #canes pic.twitter.com/WeD0iXaP1N— Ironman Football (@IMFB_Blog) November 5, 2016
The joy of that amazing play was short lived, however, as Pittsburgh returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. But, the good things about hat, is that the Canes’ offense got to come back on the field, and they continued to have success.
Miami used the quick passing game to score again, building a 17-7 lead after the first quarter. Pittsburgh used a varied offense featuring tons of motion and misdirection to walk down the field against the Canes defense. After a second quarter that saw another 24 total points scored, Miami held a 27-21 halftime lead.
Miami, who received the ball to start the game, opened the 2nd half on defense. I said to a couple friends that the second half, and thereby the game, would be decided by turnovers. Miami made me look like a prophet when, on the 3rd play from scrimmage of the 2nd half, Kendrick Norton forced a fumble, which was recovered by Chad Thomas. Miami would cash that drive in, scoring the only points of the 3rd quarter, and building a 34-21 lead.
The 4th quarter was where Miami extended the lead. Pitt, for their part, scored a touchdown to close the score to 41-28, but Miami would score the last 10 points to get to the final margin. The nail in the coffin, however, was Mark Walton’s highlight reel, 55 yard touchdown run, which you can see right here:
55-yard rushing touchdown by Mark Walton. Tremendous balance on his part pic.twitter.com/yl66CArmj6— Peter Ariz (@PeterAriz) November 5, 2016
Much derided through the recent 4 game losing streak, Miami’s offensive line played much better, and QB Brad Kaaya reminded the country why he’s an NFL draft prospect. The junior from Los Angeles started the game with 13 straight completions before missing a throw. He ended the game 32 for 47 (68.1% completions) for 356 yards and 4 touchdowns. Kaaya added 5 carries for 17 yards and a 1 yard TD to boot. So, he had a good day.
On the other side, Pitt moved the ball mainly with jet sweeps and misdirection plays. They spread the ball around a lot, which was not what I personally expected. Pitt RB James Conner is one of the best RBs in CFB, but you wouldn’t know it to look at today’s game. Miami contained Conner all day, holding him to 12 carries for 40 yards and a TD. The Canes’ defense really stepped up in the 2nd half, holding Pitt to 7 points, and only allowing 140 yards rushing to a team that came in averaging 232 yards on the ground.
After the game, Mark Richt said he focused on having his team start faster in practice this week. By starting practice fast, it helped the team start fast, something that had been lacking through the month of October.
Apart from that, Miami played with the spirit that Canes fans want to see. Yes, there were mistakes — a couple BAD drops by David Njoku, 8 penalties for 71 yards on the day — but there was passion, and effort, and, more than anything else, a win.
Miami finally exorcised the demons that had been dragging them down for more than a month. With the win, Miami moves to 5-4 on the year (2-3 in the ACC), and a single win away from bowl eligibility. That, however, isn’t the goal for the players.
“It’s always great to win,” said senior Safety Rayshawn Jenkins. “Like I said, we have to continue to do so. We have to finish this season off strong, especially for the seniors. We’ve been through so much, and I feel like if we finish this season off strong, it’ll be great for us.”
“We’re still going to go in and work the same starting tomorrow” freshman Wide Receiver Ahmmon Richards said. “Just work, that’s all we can do. We really control our own destiny at this point. We just need to try to win out. It’s like a renewing feeling just to win again and keep it going.”
Whether it’s Richt, or Walton, or Kaaya, or Jenkins, or Elder, or any other player, Miami has to continue to play with passion and precision like we saw today. If they do that, the remaining games — at Virginia, at North Carolina State, and vs Duke — are all winnable.
So let’s go win them, eh?