University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes taking steps to better protect QB Brad Kaaya

UM quarterback Brad Kaaya is sacked in the first quarter against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015.
UM quarterback Brad Kaaya is sacked in the first quarter against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015.

University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya at times looked like a tackling dummy Saturday at Florida State.

That can happen when you throw the ball 49 times because you can’t establish a running game.

“Brad’s a tough kid,’’ receiver Stacy Coley said Tuesday. “Sunday we looked at the film and saw how many hits he took. And he got up and still [was] uplifting and being a leader.’’

With injured center Nick Linder missing practice, the Hurricanes (3-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) shuffled the offensive line Tuesday in search of a combination that can repave the highway and keep Kaaya clean against the Hokies (3-3, 1-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Sun Life Stadium.

Starters the past five games: left tackle Trevor Darling, left guard Alex Gall, Linder, right guard Danny Isidora, right tackle Sunny Odogwu.

The first team Tuesday: left tackle Darling, left guard Kc McDermott, center Gall, right guard Joe Brown, right tackle Isidora.

The second team, left to right: Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier, Hunter Knighton, Brown, Odogwu.

Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro reviews the Hurricanes' loss to FSU and looks ahead to Virginia Tech with recruiting guru David Furones on Oct. 13, 2015.

The Hurricanes have dropped to 98th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 143.8 yards a game after a sickly performance in Tallahassee: 20 net yards on 19 carries for a 1.1-yard-per-carry average.

Joe Yearby, who came to FSU ranked ninth in the nation with 7.31 yards per carry, mustered 33 yards on 15 rushes with his longest run going 6 yards.

“The way the game evolved, I made the decision to go that route,” UM coach Al Golden said Tuesday of the heavy passing attack against the Seminoles. “That’s certainly an area that we need to do better this week, whether it’s play-calling, finding different running surfaces, calling something new. Those are all in play as we go into Virginia Tech.”

On Sunday, Golden said Linder had an injury in his “neck/shoulder/trapezius” region, but Tuesday said he’s close to returning.

“I think he’ll be ready,’’ Golden said, later saying that the Canes “have to get more people into the game and stay fresher” on the O-line.

“… At the end of the day, they earn what they get. … I would love to see some guys step up and say, ‘I’m better than these guys and you can’t take me out of the game.’ ’’

UM offensive coordinator James Coley was asked Tuesday after practice if Brown and McDermott will crack the rotation Saturday.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Coley said.

The starting rotation?

“Yeah, we’re working those guys in. We want to see who the best five guys are that can help us run thefootball and protect the quarterback.’’

Mark D'Onofrio's defense was shredded for over 500 yards by FSU but will try to rebound this week vs. Virginia Tech. D'Onfrio speaks to media on Oct. 13, 2015.

The bright spot, at least on paper: Miami is 18th in passing offense, averaging 309.8 yards, and ranks 29th nationally in sacks allowed. However, Kaaya has been hit several more times than the six sacks UM has allowed.

“That’s him being a tough quarterback when he needs to be to throw the ball and complete it,” James Coley said. “Sometimes you have to sit in there and take it to move the sticks. There are times where the lack of sacks, a lot of it is on him. He gets the ball out so fast. He may not be the most elusive quarterback, but his release is so fast that it helps him out with [avoiding] sacks.

“But he does get hit, and that’s the pride level that everybody has got to take around him. Their quarterback should not be getting off the ground after certain plays.”

Kaaya also had passes repeatedly batted down at FSU — three times in UM’s last-gasp drive.

The Hokies are ranked 96th in rushing defense, 11th in passing yards allowed and 43rd in sacks.

“We’ve got to take pride in protecting him,” slot receiver Braxton Berrios said of Kaaya. “When he gets hit like that and gets back up we know we’ve got to fight a little bit harder. He should never get hit like that.”

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