For the University of Miami football team, the good news keeps piling up, just like the touchdowns.
On Sunday, the day after Miami’s third straight convincing victory, not only was quarterback Brad Kaaya assessed as “fine” by coach Mark Richt, but the Hurricanes moved up 10 spots in the Associated Press Poll to No. 15. They ascended to No. 19 in the Amway Coaches Poll. That’s the highest UM has been ranked in both polls since Nov. 9, 2013.
“College football is still a little bit of a beauty contest,” Richt said of the rankings. “It’s good for recruiting. The ESPN ticker is going to show what’s going on with the top 15 over and over. Right now, it’s not a bad place to be.”
With the 45-10 rout of Appalachian State for its first road win under Richt, Miami opened its season 3-0 for the eighth time since 2000 and has outscored its opponents by a combined total of 153-23.
Richt seemed to allay any fears about Kaaya’s left knee, which he injured on what was in retrospect an ill-advised, “greedy” fourth-down pass play, according to Richt, that resulted in an interception.
“From what I hear, he’s fine,” Richt said of his junior quarterback. “Believe me, if there’s news we’ll tell you.”
Kaaya returned to the game after getting smashed and finished with 21 completions on 27 attempts for 368 yards and three touchdowns. Afterward his swollen knee was wrapped but he didn’t seem concerned.
“It just got a little bit twisted up,” he said Saturday. “Good thing next week is a bye week. I can just rest and ice up. We can get guys healed up and refocus, whether it be mentally or physically. I’m looking forward to having a week off to chill and decompress.”
Richt reiterated those goals as UM has two weeks to prepare for its first Atlantic Coast Conference matchup, at Georgia Tech on Oct. 1, and the gauntlet that follows — Florida State, North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame.
“It’s nice to get a little break because we’ve been running pretty hard since camp,” Richt said. “We’ll implement a game plan little by little this week. But for the most part it’s rest, get strong and try to keep our fundamental skills up as blockers and tacklers. Here’s your chance to get everybody healthy. We’ll be careful with everybody.”
After crushing Florida A&M 70-3, FAU 38-10 and Appalachian State 45-10, UM is ranked first in the nation in tackles for loss (40), second in scoring defense (7.7 points), third in total defense (217.3 yards), fifth in scoring offense (51 points) and tied for fifth in sacks (13).
Appalachian State could never get its offense into a rhythm.
“We had to dominate and that’s exactly what we did,” said defensive end Chad Thomas, who had a role in three sacks. “It felt good.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said he was pleased to see the team regroup in the third quarter after the interception, and a Mountaineers touchdown.
“There was a point in the third quarter where it was hey, maybe this is going to get real,” Diaz said. “Kaaya responded with a big-time drive. We responded with some three-and-outs. In the 10 minutes of game time after their touchdown it was dominant, it was one-sided and that was the answer we were looking for.”
Richt said he’d like to see improvement on pass protection and rushing defense — especially with Georgia Tech’s vaunted ground game on deck.
“[Appalachian State] did run the ball on their signature stretch play — a couple times they broke out,” he said. “We need to get better on that type of play. But we played hard and physical, with energy. We got better at kicking the ball.”
Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense will present a tougher test.
“I’d hate to play them Thursday on a short week,” Richt said of the Yellow Jackets. “By far the toughest thing to do is simulate with our scout team. The scout team can’t really do it justice. It’s a very tough offense to defend.”