University of Miami

Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson head into quarterback showdown

adiaz@miamiherald.com

South Florida football fans who love aerial shows and inspirational stories might need to wake up a bit earlier Saturday morning and head to Sun Life Stadium — or at least to the nearest television.

There, two of the most scrutinized sophomore quarterbacks will be on display as the Hurricanes continue their tough journey through October.

Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson will go head-to-head — in an NFL scout sort of way, and there will be plenty of them watching — when the Hurricanes (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) face No. 6 Clemson (6-0, 3-0) at noon.

“It’s not really about me competing with any other quarterback,” Kaaya said this week. “Honestly, I have to run my offense. He has to run his offense. If anything, I’m competing with their safety, I’m competing with their linebackers … guys like that.’’

Watson, from Gainesville, Georgia, was rated as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country in high school and returned this season after tearing his ACL last November. A week later, torn ACL and all, the then-freshman completed 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, with another two touchdowns rushing as he led the Tigers to their first victory over nemesis South Carolina since 2008.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,’’ Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a preseason video produced by the ACC Network. “It was one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen.’’

And that was after Watson recovered from a broken right hand sustained the previous month.

Today, the 20-year-old Watson is 17th nationally in passing efficiency and fourth in the ACC in passing yards per game with a 235-yard average. He leads the league with 14 touchdown passes and also is Clemson’s second-leading rusher with 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Kaaya, also 20, is 17th nationally and No. 1 in the ACC in passing yards per game with a 299.2 average. He also leads the league with 1,795 passing yards.

A big difference between the two quarterbacks, besides Watson’s running ability that will challenge a UM linebacking corps with a new middle backer: interceptions.

Kaaya has thrown just one interception this season — and just four in his past 421 attempts.

Watson has thrown seven this season.

“Probably the biggest disappointment for me is our turnover margin,” Swinney said this week of Clemson’s No. 81 national ranking in that category, compared to No. 1 for UM. “Man, I’m really frustrated right now. That’s a recipe for disaster.’’

Watson and Kaaya met in the summer of 2013 at Nike’s Elite 11 camp in Beaverton, Oregon, and became friends.

Kaaya said Watson “seems like a really focused dude. He’s really locked in the whole time. He’s really about business, all about ball.”

Besides describing Watson as “a good all-around quarterback,’’ Kaaya called him “a good dude’’ with “a good story.”

In 2012, when Watson was a high school sophomore, his mother, Deann, revealed to him that she had cancer of the tongue and needed to have it surgically removed — then eventually reconstructed. Despite being crushed, Watson, with the help of his older brother and aunt, persevered, all the while caring for his three younger siblings.

“What I’m going through now will never compare to what she went through,’’ Watson said this past summer in the ACC video. “So there’s no reason for me to be down or sad or complain about my injuries. …’’

Deann has beaten the cancer, and Watson is thriving on and off the field.

At noon Saturday his defense will aim to thwart the best quarterback Clemson will have faced to this point, according to Swinney and his assistants.

Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables indicated his defense, ranked 10th in the nation, needs to get to Kaaya quickly.

“You make it easy on him, give him a lot of time, let him figure you out and play with bad technique on the back end, this dude will slice you and dice you,’’ Venables told The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina.

“This is a quarterback who’s really good at taking advantage of the things that are there, where some quarterbacks are a little bit more blind.”

The Hurricanes are just glad they’re home — filled seats or not. UM has won 16 of its past 19 games at home and loves the heat.

The past four games between these teams have been won by the visitors, and three of those four games have gone to overtime.

The Tigers are going for their 35th victory in a row over an unranked opponent.

Saturday: No. 6 Clemson at Miami

Kickoff: Noon; Sun Life Stadium.

TV/radio: ABC; WQAM 560; WURN 1020 (Spanish); WVUM 90.5 FM.

Favorite: Clemson by 7 1/2.

Records: Miami 4-2 (1-1 ACC); Clemson 6-0 (3-0 ACC).

Series: Miami leads 6-3.

Miami injuries: Questionable — DL Demetrius Jackson (foot). Out — LB Raphael Kirby (knee); LB Marques Gayot (neck); LB Darrion Owens (knee); RB Gus Edwards (foot).

Clemson injuries: Questionable — DL Austin Bryant (knee); DB Ryan Carter (hamstring); C Ryan Norton (leg); C Zach Riggs (knee). Out — WR Mike Williams (neck); DB Korrin Wiggins (knee).

PROBABLE UM STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

15

Brad Kaaya

So.

DE

9

Chad Thomas

So.

RB

2

Joe Yearby

So.

NT

93

Calvin Heurtelou

Sr.

FB

40

Gage Batten

Jr.

DT

92

Courtel Jenkins

So.

WR

6

Herb Waters

Sr.

LB

35

Trent Harris

So.

WR

11

Rashawn Scott

Sr.

LB

51

Juwon Young

So.

TE

5

Standish Dobard

Jr.

LB

5

Jermaine Grace

Jr.

LT

73

Trevor Darling

So.

LB

8

A. Muhammad

So.

LG

52

KC McDermott

So.

CB

3

Tracy Howard

Sr.

C

68

Nick Linder

So.

CB

1

Artie Burns

Jr.

RG

50

Joe Brown

Fr.

S

25

Dallas Crawford

Sr.

RT

63

Daniel Isadora

Jr.

S

2

Deon Bush

Sr.

PK

15

Michael Badgley

So.

P

16

Justin Vogel

Jr.

PROBABLE CLEMSON STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

4

Dehaun Watson

So.

DE

98

Kevin Dodd

Jr.

RB

9

Wayne Gallman

So.

DT

94

Carlos Watkins

Jr.

WR

13

Hunter Renfrow

Fr.

DT

56

Scott Pagano

So.

WR

3

Artavis Scott

So.

DE

90

Shaq Lawson

Jr.

TE

16

Jordan Leggett

Jr.

LB

11

Travis Blanks

Jr.

TE

44

Garrett Williams

Fr.

LB

44

B.J. Goodson

Sr.

LT

75

Mitch Hyatt

Fr.

LB

10

Ben Boulware

Jr.

LG

78

Eric MacLain

Gr.

CB

2

M. Alexander

So.

C

57

Jay Guillermo

Jr.

CB

25

C. Tankersley

Jr.

RG

55

Tyrone Crowder

So.

S

1

Jayron Kearse

Jr.

RT

73

Joe Gore

Gr.

S

15

T.J. Green

Jr.

PK

92

Greg Huegel

Fr.

P

32

Andy Teasdall

Sr.

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