The sun rose Thursday and the University of Miami quarterback was still the University of Miami quarterback.
The morning after the Hurricanes defeated West Virginia 31-14 for their first postseason victory in 10 years, Brad Kaaya posted a photo of his MVP trophy from the Russell Athletic Bowl, accompanied by the words: “Woke up and it still feels just as good!”
Those inside the program believed that Kaaya had been heavily leaning toward turning pro before the bowl, but just hours after Kaaya said he had “some soul searching to do,’’ and judging by coach Mark Richt’s update on the radio Thursday, Kaaya’s decision – unlike teammate David Njoku, who said he’s entering the draft – has not been cemented.
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“I do think he’s torn,’’ Richt told WQAM560’s Joe Rose. “Everybody wants to play in the NFL. The thought of the draft not being super heavy with quarterbacks is on his mind. He knows he can improve as a player and become more prepared for the moment when you get there. Because when you get there, you better be ready.
“It’s a tough call for him, but I do think he’s very serious about continuing to consider what to do. I don’t think it’s done in his mind right now.’’
Richt began by praising UM’s suffocating defense, which had arguably its best performance of the season by holding a strong 10-2 program to only 11 first downs and a season-low 229 yards. “That was the difference in the game,’’ he said.
But Kaaya’s future is of utmost importance now, and the quarterback has plenty to think about. After a poor, inaccurate first quarter-and-a-half, Kaaya lit up the West Virginia defense with fluid, gorgeous drives that ended with four impressive touchdowns by early in the third quarter. He couldn’t be stopped after that, completing 19 of his last 21 passes.
“Two of those passes, Ahmmon [Richards] took a 5-yard hitch like 60 [yards],’’ Kaaya said of the freshman’s impressive 51-yard sprint across the field “and David did the same for a bubble screen. So, just credit to those guys right there. That’s awesome.’’
Tight end Njoku should have been tackled before he got to the end zone, but as usual, with a WVU safety hanging on to his legs, Njoku pulled a Houdini act and scored.
Richt said in his radio interview that he didn’t know exactly when Njoku was going to declare. “I thought he was leaning that way,’’ Richt said. “He’s very highly rated. I don’t know if there’s anybody who thinks there’s any chance he can get out of the second round. The way that kid is going to run and jump and change directions.
“When people start testing these guys, athleticism and ball skills and this and that and the other, he’ll go high. They’re going to see his potential to be as good as anybody in that league, which is hard to say because that’s a league of freaky athletes.’’
Richt, who “got two Gatorade baths on the sideline’’ and was “rinsed out with some ice water,’’ said he wants his assistants to “take a week and decompress and be with family.’’
Then comes some heavy-duty recruiting. The dead period runs through Jan. 11 before official weekend visits to the UM campus begin.
“It has been a long grind,’’ Richt said.
After the game, Richt was asked to try to put his first season in perspective.
“I wish we would have made an extra point early in the year,’’ he said, referring to the one-point loss to Florida State. “That would have been nice. Who knows how things might have changed then. But you know, that’s part of life. We didn’t get it done.
“The games we lost we were mostly in every one of them…We fought hard. We’ve got to learn to win the close ones.
“But as far as my perspective, I remember the first couple of days being at bowl practice [in 2015] and allowing the former staff to finish. …I just got to kind of watch, meet the guys little by little, and I knew I was going to fall in love with them.
“You love them before you get to know them because that’s just part of your job. But once you get to know their personalities and everything – the relationships to me are very important.’’
Added Richt: “I would call it more of a mission than a job.’’