University of Miami football coach Mark Richt walked into the interview room late Saturday afternoon, looked down at nearly two dozen digital recorders and announced in his easy, laid-back style, “Well, that’s it for spring ball 2016 — Miami style.
“It was a lot of fun. When I look at it in totality, I really enjoyed working with these young men. Just a really, really fantastic group.’’
The 2016 spring game at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale marked the end of spring football for the Hurricanes, who once again were led by the quarterback who has clearly demonstrated his dominance during the NCAA-designated 15 sessions.
In front of an animated crowd that approached 14,000, junior Brad Kaaya completed 29 of 47 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns (with his first interception of the three scrimmages) to lead the green team’s first-team offense and second-and-third-team defense to a 24-7 victory over the orange team’s first-team defense and second-andthird-team offense.
In the past three consecutive weeks, Kaaya has combined to complete 57 of 89 passes (64 percent) for 763 yards and 10 touchdowns, a 254.3-yard-per-scrimmage average.
His lone interception Saturday went to cornerback Corn Elder, who also had five tackles and three pass breakups, including one in the end zone intended for Braxton Berrios.
Safety Jaquan Johnson also picked off redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Shirreffs to end the first half.
Berrios had a strong showing, catching eight passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. His 43-yard reception early in the scrimmage was a beauty. In stride, he hauled in a tight Kaaya spiral and out-sprinted the defense down the middle of the field.
Berrios stands only 5-9 and 180 pounds. But the green team’s 6-4, 254-pound tight end Chris Herndon added to the victorious effort by dragging defenders behind him as he grabbed six catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore Lawrence Cager added five catches for 58 yards but had at least one drop to go along with a couple drops by tight end David Njoku and one apiece by walk-on fullback Cory Giordano and walk-on receiver Mitch Davis.
Nonetheless, there was definite growth by the offense this spring, despite the lack of depth among receivers.
“A lot of the guys improved in the new scheme,’’ Kaaya said of Richt’s offense. “I think Braxton got a lot better. He had a huge day. He’s just a guy who has got to be versatile, being able to go outside and inside the slot.
“The O-line, too. The O-line has gotten a lot better.’’
That line went without center Alex Gall, who watched the spring game on crutches with his wrapped right knee in a brace. Gall, who will be a senior next season, was filling in this spring for usual starter Nick Linder, who has been sidelined but will be back in the fall. Stepping in at first-team center was 6-5, 300-pound sophomore Tyler Gauthier.
The defense still had its share of sacks, with three on Kaaya, one apiece by linebackers Jermaine Grace and Shaquille Quarterman (seven tackles) and one by defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad. Tackle Gerald Willis had a pair of sacks and six tackles, and second-team end Demetrius Jackson had a sack.
Juwon Young led both teams with eight tackles.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, always frank about his players, seemed more satisfied Saturday.
“I like the way guys flew around,’’ Diaz said. “I thought we were harder to run the ball against than we had been in the previous scrimmages.’’
First-team tailback Mark Walton gained 56 yards on 10 carries, with the 6-1, 235-pound Gus Edwards taking many of the carries early in the scrimmage to finish with 57 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Joe Yearby was pushed back with only 7 yards on seven carries, with Trayone Gray gaining 20 yards on eight touches.
Diaz said his only real complaint — “it’s the craziest thing’’ — is “when we do something good, we just don’t get excited about it. I still want us to play with more passion. I mean the first drive of the game, I think we stopped them on fourth down, and the guys walked off like they were going to detention.’’
The defense devoured backup quarterbacks Malik Rosier, Shirreffs and Vincent Testaverde, who combined for four completions in 17 attempts. True freshman Jack Allison’s numbers weren’t reported.
“There weren’t many opportunities to have guys open,’’ Richt said.
Richt made sure he mentioned the nearly 300 former Canes who attended the alumni social/dinner Friday night with the current players. About 100 of them stood on the sideline to watch the spring game.
“I loved it,’’ said Richt, a former UM quarterback. “It’s about [the] camaraderie of being a Cane, and it’s also about supporting the young guys. I’m one of them. I was about the last one to leave. Just had fun talking about old memories and what could be in the future.’’