True freshman Brad Kaaya made history Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
Senior Phillip Dorsett almost did.
Together, the two forged an indelible connection that led the Miami Hurricanes to a resounding 41-20 victory over Arkansas State at Sun Life Stadium.
Just one week before the Canes (2-1) travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to face what should be their biggest test yet, Kaaya threw the most yards for a true freshman in UM history. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns, with his lone interception coming on his final pass of the day.
Dorsett caught four passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, each of the scoring plays stretching 63 yards to fire up the announced home crowd of 41,519.
“It feels good,” Kaaya said in his calm, methodic way. “We got the win. I’m not a big emotional guy — I can’t be as a quarterback. I’ve got to stay calm at all times because it can go like today or it can go south, too, in a hurry.
“You always have to be in the emotional center.”
UM coach Al Golden praised Kaaya’s performance, saying the Canes benefitted from their first full, structured week of practice.
“His timing was better, his rhythm was better,” Golden said. “Our precision on the routes were better. Obviously, we gave him enough time to throw.”
Golden also lauded Dorsett’s career game, saying he told the receiver he thought he would have a big game.
“But obviously, no one could have seen that big,” Golden said. “Good for him.’’
But it was Kaaya who Golden gushed about first and foremost. The 19-year-old showed glimpses of his talent and poise in the first two games, but Saturday the wow-factor went into overdrive. He became the first UM true freshman quarterback to throw four touchdowns since Jacory Harris did it against Duke on Oct. 18, 2008.
Kaaya’s deep balls to Dorsett were impeccable.
The first touchdown, on UM’s second offensive play of the game, was a play-action beauty that Dorsett caught in stride at the 10-yard line before sprinting into the end zone at 11:52 of the first quarter.
Kaaya’s second scoring strike, from the shotgun, was a 19-yard toss to 6-4, 258-pound tight end Clive Walford — but not before the freshman, from the shotgun, hit Dorsett again for a 51-yard pass that the senior stretched every ounce of his frame to grab. Dorsett somehow kept hold of the ball as he tumbled forward.
With UM leading 14-7 at 8:21 of the opening quarter, Kaaya had completed 3 of 4 passes for 133 yards and two scores.
On the Canes’ first three series, they gained 203 yards and scored 20 points in 11 plays.
On their next three series, they gained 12 yards and went scoreless in nine plays. But in the end, it was the Kaaya’s finesse, despite him being sacked three times, that kept the Canes coasting.
Kaaya’s third touchdown and second to Dorsett, with 8:32 left in the third quarter, was on an out pattern that Dorsett took around midfield and raced like a blur down the right sideline.
“Phillip, he’s an awesome player,” Kaaya said. “… His speed, I mean, if a safety is playing 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, I don’t see how he could cover Phil on a post route or a go route. I could throw it as hard as I possibly can, and I probably [wouldn’t] overthrow him.”
In all, UM amassed 488 yards, and its defense, which came into the game ranked eighth in the nation, allowed the Red Wolves (1-2) 329 yards — 236 passing. The Canes added four sacks, two forced fumbles and Raphael Kirby’s first career interception.
Tailback Duke Johnson rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, passing Willis McGahee for eighth place in program history with 2,144 career rushing yards. He praised Kaaya before himself.
“I can say that Brad grew,” Johnson said. “The offense grew as a whole.”
In his first two games, Kaaya threw three touchdowns and four interceptions, causing fans to debate why graduate transfer Jake Heaps didn’t win the starting job.
But it’s clear that Heaps, who replaced Kaaya temporarily late in the third quarter, is the backup for the foreseeable future. Heaps threw two incomplete passes when the Canes put in their youngsters and subs and was replaced by Kaaya with 9:59 left in the game.
Kaaya’s next and final pass was an interception with 6:28 left, but now he’s just looking ahead to Nebraska.
“I’ve already played a big away game,” Kaaya said. “Nebraska is a bigger stadium, bigger crowd. I feel like the experience in Louisville that first week — third down they’re screaming and I couldn’t hear — will help me down the road and help a lot of other guys on the team, too.”