Five days after being embarrassed at Louisville, Miami needed something to celebrate.
Hurricanes fans likely wanted even more of an old-fashioned booty kicking, but what they got in a game of positives and negatives put their team in the win column nonetheless.
Miami defeated Florida A&M 41-7 to even its record to 1-1 in its home opener at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday night. In the process, the Canes emptied much of their bench to give a multitude of youngsters an opportunity to play.
FAMU, a Football Championship Subdivision team, fell to 0-2 in front of an announced crowd of 48,254.
“It was good, it wasn’t perfect,” UM coach Al Golden said. “But I think we got better in a lot of different areas, and in some other areas we have to continue to make progress. We played a lot of guys, which was great.”
UM’s starters played for most of the first three quarters.
True freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya had an up-and-down day, completing 12 of 22 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.
“There were some plays I wish I had back,” Kaaya said. “… But I’m not a big stats guy, I’m a big wins guy.”
Jake Heaps began his UM career on a first-down handoff to freshman Joe Yearby for a 14-yard gain to end the third quarter. He finished by completing 5 of 8 passes for 41 yards.
The positives included a two-headed tailback attack by junior Duke Johnson and Yearby. Johnson became the ninth Cane to surpass the 2,000-yard career mark on a 97-yard and one-touchdown night after only nine carries — a 10.8-yard-per-carry performance. He now has 2,054 rushing yards.
“I think we stepped it up big time from last week,” Johnson said. “We still have a lot we have to correct and get better at.
“But for the most part, I think we did a great job and just looking forward to next week.”
Yearby added 95 yards on 14 carries.
The Hurricanes’ defense smothered the Rattlers, holding them to 25 yards rushing and 89 yards passing.
“I know for a fact they came out to pitch a game like that,” receiver Phillip Dorsett, who had two touchdowns, said of his defense. “The defense looks better than ever right now. We’ve got to keep them off the field, but they look good.”
The negatives included the two picks by Kaaya, two missed field goals by Matt Goudis and a high snap by Ronnie Regula that resulted in the Rattlers’ lone score near the end of the first half.
It didn’t take long for the Canes to assert their dominance. The Rattlers started the game’s opening drive on their own 11 and gained 3 yards before they had to punt.
The Canes took over, and Kaaya moved the chains with passes of 16 yards to Herb Waters, 16 yards to tight end Clive Walford and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dorsett in the right corner at 11:27 of the first quarter.
UM scored again after linebacker Thurston Armbrister’s second sack-strip in two games. Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who had a forced fumble in the opener, recovered the ball at the FAMU 27.
A personal foul against FAMU moved the ball to the 13.
Enter Johnson, who rushed 12 yards to the 1, and then 1 yard for the touchdown with 2:49 left in the first quarter. The carries moved Johnson into ninth place all-time for UM career rushing.
On his next run, a first down from the Miami 17, Johnson sprinted 55 yards down the right side of the field to the FAMU 28. Kaaya subsequently completed passes of 8 yards to Walford and 16 to Malcolm Lewis, before Gus “The Bus’’ Edwards rushed 7 yards and then 15 for the touchdown. UM lede 21-0 at 10:11 of the second quarter.
The Kaaya-Dorsett connection struck another six points with 2:02 left in the first half. Kaaya lofted the perfectly thrown arc and Dorsett, nearly on his knees, made an acrobatic catch with sophomore safety Neal Cunningham — out of Pompano Beach High — on the coverage.
“The only thing I thought was, ‘Just attack the ball, go catch it,’ Dorsett said. “No matter where I am, just catch the ball. … As an offense we have to keep improving.
“We made a lot of mistakes — we had some ups and downs this game, [but] I’d say more good plays than bad plays.”
The Hurricanes would have had a commanding 28-0 led going into the locker room at halftime, but the high snap by senior walk-on Regula from the UM 38 soared over punter Justin Vogel’s head and was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by John Boston.
With 23 seconds left in the half, UM led 28-7.
The Canes return to Sun Life Stadium next Saturday to face Arkansas State.