To say Miami’s 2nd game of the season vs FAU started poorly on offense would be an understatement. A week after hanging 70 points on FCS doormat FAMU, the Canes had a much tougher go of things in the first half vs FAU.
Miami’s QB Brad Kaaya, a consensus top draft prospect, looked like anything but that early on against the Owls. I and many others said his early-game performance was the worst we’d ever seen from #15, and the numbers support that. At one point in the first half, Kaaya was 6 for 17 passing with 2 interceptions. And, to make things worse, both of those interceptions were TERRIBLE throws. He stared down his WR on the first one — Kaaya said postgame that he didnt even see the LB and FAU ran a robber coverage they hadn’t run before — letting the LB jump the route, and got blasted — thanks, offensive line — on the 2nd one, which never made it anywhere near his intended target before being picked off by FAU.
The run game that was so dominant a week ago took a while to get going against FAU. Mark Walton was finally able to open the scoring, first with a 7 yard run then with a 3 yard run, providing the entirety of Miami’s scoring offense on the way to a 14-3 halftime lead.
On the bright side, for as sloppy and underwhelming as the offense was in the first half, the defense was equally as impressive. Freshman LB Mike Pinckney was downright dominant, registering 7 tackles, and 1 sack in the opening 30 minutes of play. DL Chad Thomas, RJ McIntosh, Kendrick Norton, Joseph Jackson, and Demetrius Jackson all played fast and furious and made life for FAU’s offense quite challenging.
Pinckney was pleased with his defense’s performance, but knows that there’s still room for growth. “We still have a lot of work to do, man” he said post game.
Miami’s special teams were up and down in the first half. After blocking FAU’s first punt of the game, Miami had their initial FG attempt blocked. And later, when trying to go block another FAU punt, Miami roughed the punter, giving the Owls back the ball with better field position. Miami’s stud punter Justin Vogel showed why he was voted 1st team All-ACC in the preseason, with several booming punts inside the 20 yard line.
The story of the game took a while to come into clear view, but the running of Mark Walton was the difference for Miami. The Sophomore had a career-high 155 yards on 19 carries and 4 Touchdowns. Walton’s explosive performance marked only the 4th time a Canes RB totalled 100+ yards and 4+ TDs. He joined Melvin Bratton, Willis McGahee, and Tyrone Moss, who most recently accomplished that feat in 2005 on that list.
“I just wanted to be the guy that sparked the team,” Walton said after the game. “I just wanted to play my game and be relaxed. And that’s what I did.”
Making his first appearance speaking to the media since his offseason incident (a false accusation of impersonating an officer and DUI), Walton said he has used that event to put a chip on his shoulder to be the best player he can be. “That’s in the past. I’ve moved on from it. I’m thankful to be back here with this team, and the coaches,” Walton said.
Walton was complimented by Joe Yearby, who had a solid day on the ground as well. Yearby ended the game with 20 carries for 123 yards and a TD, but was a clear #2 to Walton’s #1. “The way that me and Mark are running the ball is extremely awesome,” Yearby said. “We told the QB and the OL that they could get on our back, and let us carry the load.”
While the running game showed signs of life, the passing game struggled badly. As I noted before, Kaaya started the game on a bad foot, and never really looked comfortable. Miami had some success with bubble screens as the game wore on, but this was not a night to remember for Kaaya. The junior QB ended the game 17 for 31 for 191 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs, but with the majority of his completions and yards coming on swing passes and bubble screens, there was much to be desired from his performance.
Obviously, Kaaya’s performance will need to improve as the season goes on, but as long as the run game is putting up 300+ yards and 5 TDs a game, Miami can and will be successful.
As for the defense, Manny Diaz has the Canes playing with the “unwavering violence” that he so greatly desired. “We challenged our guys before the game to walk in the stadium in total control of the outcome, and I’m really proud of the way they played,” he said post game.
Diaz knows that his unit has lost players — some to dismissal, others to injury — but that won’t keep him from striving for excellence. “We just don’t talk about” the personnel losses, Diaz said. “Whoever we have that week just knows that there’s a standard that we have to live up to. We miss the guys who are out like crazy, and you do see at times when our depth is a factor. But we just don’t believe in making excuses for our performance, and if our guys continue that attitude, we’ll see how far we can go.”
Between the stout defense, which only allowed FAU to have 1 successful drive all day (the FG came after a turnover), and the run game that again pounded the opposition, Miami is off to a solid start. But, things will need to improve moving forward, and Brad Kaaya knows that.
“Good teams get better as the season goes on,” Kaaya said post-game. “It’s all about progressing.”
And progressing is what the Canes will look to do as they travel to Boone, NC to face Appalachian State next Saturday.