After last week’s historic trouncing of Florida A&M by Miami in Game 1 of the Mark Richt Era, Hurricanes fans likely expected another easy one against South Florida neighbor Florida Atlantic.
But a little patience was required Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium — and a lot of Mark Walton.
Walton became the first Miami running back since 2005 to rush for four touchdowns, leading the No. 25 Hurricanes to a 38-10 victory with a career-high 155 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Fellow back Joe Yearby added 121 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown on 20 carries.
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The Hurricanes’ 108 points in their opening two weeks is the most they’ve ever scored in school history — dating to 1926.
“When the games are over and we win, I’m mostly thankful,” Richt said. “I don’t get too jacked up one way or the other. Every once in a while the juices will pump on a victory, but I’m more thankful that we got the victory...
“I thought our defense played spectacularly. Hats off to [defensive coordinator Manny] Diaz and the rest of the defensive staff and the players. Just a beautiful job.. Offensively, not pretty by any stretch.”
The Hurricanes (2-0) ended with 470 yards and another dominant defensive showing by holding the Owls (1-1) to 214 yards — 47 of them rushing after holding FAMU to only 22 yards rushing last week.
Seven Canes — linebacker Michael Pinckney, nickel back Jaquan Johnson, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, defensive ends Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson, and tackles R.J. McIntosh and Gerald Willis (in his UM debut) — combined for seven sacks. There were 13 UM tackles for loss. Last year they had 66 total all season.
“Challenged our guys before the game to walk in the stadium as if they were in total control of the outcome,” said Diaz. “I was really proud of the way they played. I thought from start to finish, with a few exceptions, we played as if we were always under control, even if adversity was striking us.”
Added Diaz: “The first tenant of our defense is stop the run. For the first two games our run defense has been outstanding.”
A scoreless first quarter, two first-half interceptions by UM quarterback Brad Kaaya and 65 yards of first-half UM penalties had the home crowd of 57,123 probably sweating a lot more than usual in the 86-degree heat — at least until the torrential rain came at the end of the third quarter.
The Hurricanes were buoyed by opening the second half with 10 consecutive points to pad their 14-3 halftime lead.
Walton’s touchdowns went for 7 and 3 yards in the second quarter, 16 yards in the third quarter and 30 yards with 11:44 left in the game.
“Good, solid running backs,” Richt said, adding that Walton “ran the ball extremely well. He’s very physical. Four touchdowns, that’s a bunch. [And] 9.1 yards per carry, that’s pretty good.”
Jenkins’ third-quarter interception off a tip by teammate Michael Jackson led to Walton’s third touchdown that made it 24-3 six plays later.
FAU answered with an 81-yard drive that culminated with former Coral Gables High star Greg Howell’s 38-yard touchdown run to make it 24-10 late in the third quarter.
Walton came to the rescue with his final touchdown, becoming the first Cane to run for four since Tyrone Moss did it against North Carolina on Oct. 29, 2005.
“It feels great,“ Walton said. “I wasn’t trying to put too much pressure on [myself]. I just wanted to be the guy who sparked the team tonight, and that’s what I did.”
The Canes went five scoreless drives to open the game.
A frustrated Kaaya ended the first half with nine completions — including a 46-yarder to tight end David Njoku — in 20 attempts for 131 yards, with the two picks. His only completion in the first quarter was the bomb to Njoku.
“I’ll take wins any day,” Kaaya said. “I just missed some of them. Some of them I let go pretty early. Others I just didn’t connect…I’m all about wins.”
Kaaya had not thrown two picks in a game since Miami’s 2014 visit to Georgia Tech. He ended the game by completing 17 of 31 passes for 191 yards, with no touchdowns.
“Brad will tell you, he missed a couple of opportunities in this ballgame,” Richt said. “The throwing and catching [Saturday night] is what really stagnated us.”
The Hurricanes stopped FAU on its opening drive, took over at its own 49 and drove down the field, aided by the 46-yarder from Kaaya that put UM on the Owls’ 9.
Joe Yearby ran for 2 yards, then 1, setting up a third-and-goal from the 6. But the coverage was tight, and Kaaya tossed the ball out of the end zone. Then, on fourth-and-goal, Owls’ star Trey Hendrickson — a senior who was No. 2 in the nation in sacks last year with 13.5 — blocked Michael Badgley’s 24-yard field-goal attempt.
The field goal attempt was as close as UM would get in the first quarter.
Badgley finally connected on a 27-yarder to culminate a 12-play, 65-yard drive that opened the third quarter and took a season-long five minutes.
The Canes take on Appalachian State at noon next Saturday in Boone, N.C.
App State (1-1) lost in overtime to then No. 9 Tennessee — in Knoxville — in the opener. On Saturday, the Mountaineers defeated Old Dominion 31-7.
“We’re expecting a battle,” Kaaya said.