University of Miami

Key plays by UM linebacker Thurston Armbrister sparks Hurricanes in win over Florida A&M

Thurston Armbrister, who had only one scholarship offer (from Northern Colorado) before defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio discovered him at Hollywood Hills High four years ago, has turned out to be quite a find for the Hurricanes.

Five days after producing five tackles, a sack, forcing a fumble and recovering one in a loss a Louisville, Armbrister shined again for UM in Saturday’s 41-7 victory over Florida A&M.

In the first quarter, he sacked FAMU quarterback Damien Fleming at his 30-yard line and Anthony Chickillo recovered it for Miami at the Rattlers 27. Two plays later, Duke Johnson plunged into the end zone to give UM a 14-0 lead.

Then, with UM leading 28-7 in the third quarter and the Rattlers driving, Armbrister sacked Fleming for a 14-yard loss. FAMU then missed a 48-yard field goal attempt moments later.

“Thurston is playing good ball right now,” Chickillo said. “Sack-caused fumble is the best play in football. It’s two games in a row he’s gotten it now. I’m happy for him. He’s just got to keep it up.”

In the five days since the Louisville loss, Hurricanes fans and former players have unleashed quite a bit of venom. The complaints: poor offensive play-calling, offensive line play, and scheme adjustments that have long been needed on defense.

It’s hard to tell if Saturday night’s win will get them off the coaching staff’s back considering there was a mixed bag of results against a Football Championship Subdivision team.

But some observations and reactions:

• The Hurricanes started the same offensive line at Louisville, but right tackle Taylor Gadbois was replaced on the third series by freshman Kc McDermott. The two split series the rest of the way.

UM, which ran for only 90 yards at Louisville, finished with 198 yards on the ground. The Canes had their most success running the ball in the first half behind its veteran left side of the offensive line. Duke Johnson ran behind left tackle Ereck Flowers and left guard Jonathan Feliciano when he broke free on a 55-yard run. Gus Edwards later scored on a 15-yard run behind that same side.

• Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya took deeper shots downfield, but wasn’t always sharp. He threw two interceptions and finished 12-of-22 for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He is building some nice chemistry though with freshman receiver Braxton Berrios. The two connected on a big fourth down conversion in the second half.

“I thought Brad made some really nice throws,” coach Al Golden said. “I think it’s unfortunate we snapped the ball three times thinking we had them offsides. One was incomplete. The other was an interception. That wasn’t good there.

“We like to keep the ball outside the numbers there on the go route. He brought it inside, brought the corner into the play. But there were some heck of a throws there, too. I thought we did a pretty job protecting him versus all the zone pressure. Brad is going to continue to make progress and grow.”

• Junior cornerback Tracy Howard and senior Ladarius Gunter were beaten in coverage in the secondary. It wasn’t the result of playing far off the line of scrimmage. Both simply lost their receivers. Miami fans won’t be happy to know linebacker Raphael Kirby was lined up against a slot receiver on third down, a constant complaint. UM didn’t get burned on the play, though.

Golden seemed pleased with the defensive effort overall.

“Last week we had 72 plays,” he said. “That’s probably 800 reps. Out of those reps on defense we only had 15 mental errors. They challenged each other this week to have less than that. They’re cohesive right now. Everybody is fitting in the right gaps. We let up a couple deep ones we got to do a better job of playing the ball down the field. But we’re keeping the quarterback in the pocket. We’re tackling better. The defensive line -- we’re playing more of those guys and getting more production for sure.”

• Receiver Phillip Dorsett was impressive. He had three catches for 44 yards and scored twice. He caught Kaaya’s first touchdown pass from four yards out and then split two defenders in the back of the end zone to make a diving 32-yard touchdown catch.

• Walter Tucker became the first Hurricane since Devin Hester (2005) to play on both offense and defense in a game. Tucker saw action at middle linebacker when Perryman left the game.

• Golden said quarterback Kevin Olsen is done serving his suspension.

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