After months of anticipation, the Miami Hurricanes were led by new head coach Mark Richt into Hard Rock Stadium for the 2016 season opener. The game was a perfect start to the season for the Canes, as they easily dispatched the Florida A&M University Rattlers 70-3.
It was clear from the start that Miami was was and away the better team. The Canes started the game on defense, and ended that first FAMU possession with an interception by CB Corn Elder. 3 plays later, superstar QB Brad Kaaya hit FB Marquez Williams for a 4-yard TD on play-action, and the route was on.
Just a few minutes later, Joseph Yearby scored on a 1 yard TD run following a blocked punt by freshman DE Pat Bethel. Miami added a 16 yard TD pass from Kaaya to Herndon and a career-long 64 yard TD run by Joseph Yearby on the way to a 28-3 halftime lead.
Everything was not perfect in the first half, however. Brad Kaaya missed a couple big throws that would have either been touchdowns or very long gains, Miami had a costly penalty, and, while the defense was much better than has been seen in previous years, FAMU had over 20 minutes of possession on offense in the first half.
The second half, however, saw Miami really showcase their dominance. The Canes exploded for 42 points in the 3rd quarter and never looked back. In that 3rd quarter, Kaaya tossed his 3rd and 4th TDs, to Ahmmon Richards and Stacy Coley, respectively, Mark Walton had a career-long 37 yard TD run, a 41 yard punt return TD by Braxton Berrios, a 19 yard run by Malik Rosier on a rollout, and a career-long 74 yard run by Gus Edwards.
This game was a great chance to see what the paradigm of this staff is, and how they are going about the business of being great. The offense featured a run-first mentality, but used a variety of formations and personnel groups. The run-first mentality of the offense paid off in a big way. The RB trio of Mark Walton (116 yards), Joseph Yearby (106 yards) and Gus Edwards (105 yards) all eclipsed the 100-yard mark. This performance marked the first time since a game vs Cincinnati in October, 1987 that the Canes had 3 running backs hit that performance landmark. Overall, Miami had 36 rushes for 373 yards (10.36 yards per carry) and 5 touchdowns. Yeah, that’ll work.
While the running backs ran wild on the Rattlers, the big story today was the defense.
New Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz has repeatedly said he wants his defense to play fast and aggressive — he used the term “unwavering violence” recently — and they did just that. Miami ended the game with 18 tackles for loss, and held FAMU to a paltry 2.85 yards per play. I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s damn good, friends.
Leading the charge for the Canes’ defense were a trio of talented freshmen: linebackers Zach McCloud, Mike Pinckney, and Shaq Quarterman. The trio, who all started the first game of their collegiate careers together, played fast, physical defense, and looked very comfortable. Quarterman was the standout of that group tonight, leading the team with 7 tackles on the evening.
McCloud, Pinckney, and Quarterman weren’t the only freshmen to make their collegiate debuts on Saturday night. Miami played no less than 11 true freshmen in the game against FAMU. Leading the way in the non-linebacker division was WR Ahmmon Richards, who had 2 catches for 31 yards and a TD, and a 48 yard catch overturned on replay (correctly, might I add). RB Travis Homer ran well in his limited touches, but fumbled near the goal line. And DE Pat Bethel blocked the punt that led to a short Joseph Yearby touchdown run.
After allowing 154 yards in the first half, the Canes defense stiffened, and held the Rattlers to -2 yards on 19 offensive plays in the 3rd quarter. While the competition wasn’t of a high level, that kind of performance should be a stepping stone for Miami. It shows that when the team focused, does their assignments, and tackles, they can be a formidable outfit.
This season opening win was about more than one game. It was the rebirth of a program that has long been dormant. It was a birthday present for Brad Kaaya — “it’s the only present I really wanted” he said, after the game. It was a return to calling plays and leading a team to victory for Mark Richt. And, it was a return to football being fun for Hurricanes fans.
When asked about the difference he felt between his time at Georgia and the opening game at Miami, Richt had a short, but poignant, response:
“I really, really like it here”, Richt said.
I’m sure Canes fans will all agree that they like having you here too, Coach.