The Miami Hurricanes announced Sunday that senior linebacker Raphael Kirby, who went down Saturday against Virginia Tech with a serious right-knee injury, will miss the remainder of the season.
UM coach Al Golden did not specify the details of the injury but said Kirby will undergo major surgery Wednesday.
“I’m crushed,” Golden said during his teleconference Sunday with the media. “Raphael represents what we want in a Miami Hurricane. He’s a leader. He’s unselfish. He holds his teammates accountable, and he’s a big part of who we are.”
Kirby, UM’s defensive captain and starting inside linebacker was running over to make a tackle on Virginia Tech tight end Kevin Cline with 6:54 to go in the third quarter when his right knee buckled.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Kirby (6-1, 235-pounds), from Stone Mountain, Georgia, played in 39 games and finishes his college career with 124 tackles. Entering this season, Kirby had seven tackles for loss and two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Kirby moved to the middle linebacker position this season after the departure of Denzel Perryman, now with the San Diego Chargers.
Kirby began the season on the Butkus Award watch list after finishing the 2014 season with 54 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He started 19 consecutive games, including Saturday’s 30-20 victory over Virginia Tech and finishes the season with 44 tackles — 15 more than the next player for UM, Jermaine Grace.
“We are tremendously disappointed for Raphael,” Golden said. “He is the true definition of a leader on the field, in the community and in the classroom. His commitment to our team and our goals has been unquestioned over his career, and he will be sorely missed. We will support Raphael through his recovery as we continue to lean on his leadership for our team.”
Kirby’s loss is another blow to the Hurricanes at linebacker where depth is an issue. UM already has lost Darrion Owens (knee) and Marques Gayot (neck injury), whom multiple sources have said is not likely to return this season.
Golden said Juwon Young, who replaced Kirby against Virginia Tech and recorded a timely interception as well as four tackles, and sophomore outside linebacker/rush end Trent Harris are the next players up at the position.
“I’m going to keep preparing and getting better each day,” Young said following Saturday’s game. “It’s not tough [to step in] because everybody wants to go out there and make plays. Kirby’s always telling me to stay on his level, so I try to beat him out at practice, and it just helped me a lot in the game when it was my time.”
Golden said Harris, a defensive end, can be moved to linebacker if necessary.
Grace is another player who has played well but has dealt with injuries himself. Golden also mentioned Terry McCray as an option.
With a nationally televised noon clash with No. 6 Clemson on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium next, Golden said the Hurricanes (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) will challenge their younger players at the position to step up.
“We need some of our young guys to step up given our circumstances,” Golden said. “Juwon came in and played really well. Trent is a smart guy and conscientious, he’ll learn it and, obviously, Jermaine and Tyriq have been playing at the Will [position] now for a couple of weeks.”
Clemson (6-0, 3-0) will make its first trip to Miami since 2009 and brings with it a top-notch defense that ranks 17th in run defense (114.2 yards per game), is tied for sixth in pass defense (167.5 yards per game) and 41st in sacks (15).
The Hurricanes’ red-zone efficiency is an area Golden reiterated must improve against Clemson.
UM’s offense struggled running the football once again Saturday when it totaled only 99 yards on 39 attempts (2.5 yards per attempt). Quarterback Brad Kaaya was sacked only once but was hurried and hit several more times.
“We shifted gears two hours ago, and the kids did a good job seeing what we did well against Virginia Tech and what we need to improve on,” Golden said. “Clemson has an extremely talented group. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.
“Our focus has to be as it has been on us. We have some things we have to eliminate, and we have to improve if we are going to play well against Clemson.”