Four games into his college career, Brad Kaaya is not just showing signs he might be the next great quarterback at the University of Miami — he’s putting up numbers to back it up.
Bernie Kosar, who led Miami to its first national championship in 1983, finished his college career by completing a school-record 62.3percent of his passes. A month in, Kaaya is completing 62.3percent of his passes.
Steve Walsh, who led Miami to a national title in 1987, set a school record a year later with 29 touchdown passes in a season. Kaaya is on pace to throw 30.
In Gino Torretta’s Heisman-winning season in 1992, he threw for 3,060 yards. Kaaya is on pace to throw for 3,156, which would be the seventh-most in UM history.
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But it’s not just the numbers that are impressing analysts, former players, coaches and teammates. It’s things such as Kaaya’s football IQ, the fact he wasn’t nervous playing in front of 92,000 fans at Nebraska and that he couldn’t sleep much for two days after the game because the mistakes he made against the Cornhuskers kept him up late at night watching film.
“[The records] would be a cool thing to have — that’s something to talk about in 20 to 30 years,” Kaaya said Tuesday after practice. “But for me, it’s just about winning the [Atlantic Coast Conference].”
Kaaya, who leads the ACC in passing yards and touchdowns, will try to get the Hurricanes (2-2) on track for that when they play host to defending Coastal Division champion Duke (4-0) on Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium.
ESPN analyst Brock Huard, who called the game at Nebraska and will be here to see Kaaya’s next start Saturday, said that “what Brad is doing as a true freshman, just removed from senior prom in May, is pretty impressive.”
Huard said Kaaya’s arm strength, size, decision-making and football IQ are all above average and remind him of five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Phillip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers.
Huard said what UM coaches are throwing at Kaaya in terms of responsibility at the line of scrimmage is stuff Huard, a former third-round pick and five-year pro, didn’t do until he was in the NFL.
“I go back to what [offensive coordinator James] Coley was saying — that they’ll give him at times a three-play ‘check with me,’” Huard said. “That means a run to the left, a run to the right or check to a pass when appropriate. For a true freshman to handle that — that’s something we were doing with Peyton [Manning] and the Colts.
“We tracked a couple of [Kaaya’s] throws in the games that led up to the Nebraska game. He put one of those touchdown throws to [Phillip] Dorsett about 60 yards in the air, just a single hitch and throw. That’s pretty plus arm strength and [high] caliber stuff.”
Against Nebraska, when Kaaya targeted nine different receivers and threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-42 passing, Coley had Kaaya in the shotgun for 87 percent of the plays, according to InsideTheU.com.
The shotgun might be something UM does more of as the season progresses because Kaaya showed he could handle it well and because, as Coley noted, “Duke [Johnson] runs the ball really well in the gun, as well.”
“Growth happens when you start getting comfortable with the guys around you,” Coley said. “I think [Kaaya] has done a great job. To this point, he’s like, ‘I want more [of the playbook]’ — and he can handle it.”
Torretta, who is one of three former UM quarterbacks whom Kaaya said he speaks with frequently — Vinny Testaverde and Stephen Morris are the others — said he has been impressed by the poise Kaaya has shown in two tough road games.
Torretta said Kaaya “throws a pretty ball” and that “his footwork from his first week to his fourth week is a lot better.”
Torretta said that whenever he needs to give Kaaya a tip or share an observation, he sends him a direct message on Twitter. Their relationship began to blossom this summer when Torretta said he would jog out onto the practice field and watch Kaaya throw passes to his receivers.
“The kid was a sponge,” Torretta said. “He seems to be absorbing everything he can.”
Torretta knows how starved Hurricanes fans are to have the next great quarterback at Miami, a savior to lead the program back to prominence. But he doesn’t believe Kaaya should have that much pressure on him to be that guy — not just yet.
“Physically, he has the skills, and, mentally, he’s on the right trajectory,” Torretta said. “But to anoint him a 38-2 starter like [Ken] Dorsey already, it’s premature.
“Whether it was my winning record, Dorsey’s or Walsh’s, we had a lot of [quality] teammates around us to help us perform like that.
“But [Kaaya’s] a big piece to the puzzle.”