UM coach Mark Richt speaks after Hurricanes' dominant win over Duke
If quarterback Brad Kaaya’s final regular-season game at Hard Rock Stadium also becomes his final collegiate game, the 50,000-plus Miami Hurricanes fans who showed up Saturday will know they viewed history in the making.
And if Kaaya should return in 2017 for his senior season, those fans can also return for more.
Down by one point late in the first half, Miami, behind a record-breaking day by Kaaya, scored 30 consecutive points to defeat Duke 40-21, raise its record to 8-4 (5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and likely assure itself of one of the higher-quality ACC-affiliated bowls.
In doing so, Kaaya, a junior who is contemplating entering the NFL Draft, broke Ken Dorsey’s all-time UM passing record of 9,565 yards from 1999-2002. And he did it in only three years.
Kaaya completed 22 of 35 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns, just shy of his personal-best of 405 yards at Florida State in 2015.
His three-season total passing yards, with a bowl game to go: 9,686.
“It’s just a huge honor,’’ Kaaya said. “It feels great. But all credit to the guys who have made plays for me the past three years. Even back in my freshman year, you get guys like Clive Walford, Duke Johnson, Phil [Dorsett]. Last year was Rashawn Scott, Herb Waters, just all the guys I had — plus some of the offensive lines I’ve had.
“Similar to some of the quarterbacks that have been here before me, they had great supporting casts.’’
Kaaya’s season numbers so far: 237 completions in 387 attempts for a nice, even 3,250 yards — with 23 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
Kaaya’s receiving corps was brilliant in helping him break the record.
Senior Stacy Coley caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, while tight end David Njoku dazzled and stiff-armed his way to two catches for a career-high 134 yards — both catches being touchdowns (76 yards, then 58).
“A great feeling to send them out like this,’’ Njoku said of the seniors, who were celebrated on Senior Day.
Njoku, a redshirt sophomore, is another Hurricane who might make the leap to the NFL early, though both he and Kaaya were noncommittal about their decisions, indicating they’ll decide in the coming weeks.
At one stretch in the third quarter, Kaaya went 5 for 5 for 192 yards, completing passes of 76 yards for a touchdown to Njoku, 33 yards to Coley, 38 yards to Braxton Berrios, 3 yards for a touchdown to Coley and 42 yards to Coley.
Njoku’s 76-yard gallop down the right sideline made it 23-14 at 8:30 of the third quarter and was the back-breaker.
“He audibled the first one,” UM coach Mark Richt said of the 5-for-5 stretch, “and I laughed when I saw him on the sidelines. ‘You got tired of all of this dink-and-dunk, high-percentage stuff? You just want to launch it?’
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, I wanted to launch it.’
“It got contagious with me. I said, ‘Alright, let’s launch a few more and see what happens.’ ’’
UM kicker Michael Badgley also had a good day, making field goals from 47, 25, 33 and 43 yards.
Tailback Mark Walton added a 30-yard touchdown reception.
Defensively, the Hurricanes held Duke to 395 yards — only 79 rushing — and had three sacks and four tackles for loss. Miami was led by senior Jamal Carter, who had 13 tackles.
“To me, the best thing about this defense this year has been our consistency,’’ UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Every week, we have challenged them to play like Hurricanes — to run to the ball, play fast and tackle well when we got there. Twelve games in, we’ve done that all 12 games.”
Duke fell to 4-8.
UM, which ended its regular season with four consecutive victories for the first time since 2002, will learn its bowl fate a week from Sunday. Among the potential destinations are the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28 in Orlando and the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 31 in Jacksonville.
“It’s hard to stay close as a team when you lose four in a row, but we just listened to what our coaches were saying,’’ Njoku said of last month, when the Canes fell to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame before rebounding with wins against Pittsburgh, Virginia, North Carolina State and Duke. “Coach Richt and Coach [Todd] Hartley, for the tight end group, just said, ‘Stick together. Focus on every play. Don’t give up.’ And I guess we did that.’’