Miami Hurricanes running back Joseph Yearby is on the verge of a benchmark season, and his teammates and coaches are determined to make it happen.
The sophomore needs just 61 yards in the Sun Bowl against Washington State (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) on Saturday to reach 1,000 yards for the season.
“I think it would mean the world, and not only to him, but to our offensive line, to our offense in general,’’ UM interim coach Larry Scott said. “It would mean a lot to our team. Our running game has been a microcosm of where we’ve been all year — keep fighting, keep pushing, and in the end we’re going to find ourselves having some pretty good success.’’
Despite Yearby’s determination, UM’s rushing offense, stymied for much of the season by a young offensive line, is ranked 13th out of 14 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, averaging 119.5 yards a game.
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Washington State is 100th nationally in run defense, allowing 199.5 yards a game.
Yearby is sixth in the ACC with his 78.2-yard average. He runs for 4.9 yards a carry.
When asked how he felt about being so close to the 1,000-yard mark, the soft-spoken Yearby said he “never really imagined getting to 1,000 yards. I’m not trying to focus on that. I’m trying to finish the season strong. I’m just all about the win. That’s all.’’
UM offensive coordinator James Coley believes the best is yet to come for sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who is one of just three players nationally to throw for at least 3,000 yards, 10 or more touchdowns and have no more than four interceptions.
Kaaya now has 6,217 career passing yards and stands fifth on UM’s all-time career passing list. Following his 261 passing yards at Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale, Kaaya surpassed former UM quarterbacks Bernie Kosar, Ryan Clement, Craig Erickson and Vinny Testaverde.
This season he has completed 221 of 358 passes (61.7 percent) for 3,019 yards and 15 touchdowns, with four interceptions.
“As he plays more games he’s going to get better,’’ Coley said this week. “He’s not a finished product yet. He’s got so much growth.
“The next step in his ability, and we’re starting to see it, is to extend plays with his feet. We’ve seen it the last several games. That’s why his numbers are getting better, because he’s able to move now, he’s comfortable moving in the pocket … understanding where he should be in the pocket, how deep he should be, where the lanes are.
“Those are things that come by watching film and really practicing. Where I think his biggest gains are going to be will be his ability to extend plays, and [having] control of who he is. Once this off season is over with, you’ll see a different player.’’
The Hurricanes rank sixth among FBS teams in turnover margin. They have lost just four fumbles all year, which ranks fourth nationally.
Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas said the Hurricanes “have been awesome’’ to host this week — “very good gentleman. They have been about as perfect gentlemen as we could have asked for from a football team in El Paso.
“They’re on time for everything, they’re very respectful to our city, to our citizens and especially to our Sun Bowl people. We’re having a great time hosting them.’’
One Hurricane, safety Jamal Carter, was sent home early in the week for violating an undisclosed team rule. Another, defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins, was sent home because he was academically ineligible.