All eyes were on Brad Kaaya to start the season. Still are.
Kaaya, projected by some NFL analysts to be one of the top two quarterbacks taken in the draft should he leave after his junior year, threw two interceptions in the first half last week against FAU, is 11th in passing offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and ninth in the ACC in passing efficiency.
However, the No. 25 Hurricanes (2-0) have scored a school-record 108 points in their first two games, are thriving on the ground, and have a defense that to this point has been smothering. Kaaya, the man who makes the offense go with the help of new coach and quarterback guru Mark Richt, is not panicking.
No need to yet as Miami prepares to travel to Boone, North Carolina, to take on Appalachian State (1-1) at noon Saturday (ESPN).
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“I listened to him in the postgame [FAU] press conference,” Richt said Wednesday of Kaaya, whose 6,762 career passing yards are already the fifth-most in UM history. “The guy was awesome. He didn’t put the blame on anybody. He said he needed to get better. Part of the reason our running game is good is because he’s getting us in the right plays at the line of scrimmage.
“He knows he’s managing the game more than just dropping back and slinging the ball. He also knows that if we execute well, we’re doing the right things.”
The Mountaineers run a “multiple spread” offense and are ranked 40th nationally in passing yards allowed (180.5 per game) and 69th in rushing defense (142 per game allowed).
Kaaya’s numbers: 29 of 49 (59.2 percent) for 326 yards, four touchdowns and the two picks. His cumulative second-half numbers compared to the first halves: 12 of 18 (66.7) for 105 yards and two touchdowns compared to 18 of 34 (52.9) for 236 yards, two scores and two picks. His second pick came as the result of his getting hit as he released the ball.
Mostly behind sophomore Mark Walton and junior Joe Yearby (Gus Edwards only ran in the first game), UM has rushed for 652 yards, sixth best in the country, and has scored 10 touchdowns on the ground.
“If those guys — Mark, Joe and Gus — can keep that up, it’s going to be a great year for the offense,” Kaaya said. “Being able to have that every single game is going to be huge for me.”
Kaaya was asked how beneficial it is to still have ways for the offense to get better.
“It’s a great sign,” he said after the 38-10 win over FAU. “The good teams get better as the season goes on. We could all sit here and say, ‘Oh, they should be connecting on these deep balls.’ If we’re putting up points and still executing on the run plays and the foundation is there, that’s a good sign. It’s all about progressing…
“I’m all about wins. I could have thrown 400 yards tonight. If we had lost, everyone would be saying, ‘This is the worst day ever.’”
Richt made it clear after the FAU game that between the offensive line being pushed back at times, thereby squeezing Kaaya in the pocket, and at times Kaaya not having a deep enough drop, there were some passing issues.
“The bottom line is we have to get in the pocket in the right spot, whether it’s play-action or just [shotgun] and straight dropback under center,” Richt said. “We have to set the point in the right spot, have a short little hitch in the pocket and start operating from there.”
Regarding his accuracy, Kaaya said this week that after watching film, he thought he generally handled the last game well but “had a couple unfortunate plays and a couple passes we just missed on by maybe a few inches — literally half-a-foot on a couple passes.”
Added Kaaya: “I feel good about things. I’m just trying to get better every week.’”