University of Miami

Kaaya shines, defense produces nine sacks in Canes first scrimmage

University of Miami Quarterback Brad Kaaya and was praised by coach Mark Richt for his play during Wednesday’s scrimmage.
University of Miami Quarterback Brad Kaaya and was praised by coach Mark Richt for his play during Wednesday’s scrimmage.

The Miami Hurricanes’ first scrimmage of the fall, which paired the first-team offense and first-team defense against backups and third-stringers, turned out to be a pretty good day for quarterback Brad Kaaya and a showcase for Manny Diaz’s bring-the-heat defense.

“Our [first-team] offense, when it was all said and done, had a pretty good day,” said coach Mark Richt, who shared a collection of statistics compiled by UM’s sports information staff during the fast-paced 75 minute scrimmage on Greentree practice field closed to the media and fans.

“But we had a pick-6, and we had a fumble that could have got us beat. You take the turnovers out, it’s a pretty good day. But you can’t take the turnovers out, unfortunately.”

Kaaya finished 16 of 19 for 258 yards and a long touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios “on a go route,” Richt said. Kaaya also was intercepted by redshirt sophomore cornerback Ryan Mayes, who returned it for a touchdown.

“We had a couple of dropped balls,” Richt said. “We threw and caught the ball well. I think at least one was a drop, maybe two. The other one was a pick-6. That’s on me, really more than him, to be honest with you. He was throwing a route on rhythm, and I told those guys to throw it no matter what. In practice, we’re not going to lose a game on it. So really, he did exactly what I asked him to do. It turned into a pick-6, so that was on me. Brad was very sharp.”

Miami’s other quarterbacks, however, didn’t exactly shine, and Richt said he’s going to have to look at the film before deciding if he’s ready to name a backup. Richt said last week he could wait until 10 days before the start of the season before choosing a backup.

“Obviously there were some statistics… but that doesn’t always tell the story, because we grade accuracy over the completion percentage and the decisions that these guys make,” Richt said. “I think the pack of twos were locked in pretty good. It’s been frustrating to figure out who that guy is. I talked to them last night about it, that there’s a possibility after this scrimmage that we might start repping one guy with the twos and one guy with the threes, and getting that guy ready. But I also said, if someone gets named the No. 2 tomorrow, if you’re three or four, don’t cry. You’ll still get reps, and it could change. It really, truly, could change. I don’t see anybody coming out of the crowd.”

Diaz’s defense, meanwhile, created nine sacks and forced two fumbles courtesy of sophomore safety Jaquan Johnson. First-team defensive ends Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas had two sacks each. So did junior Trent Harris and freshman Pat Bethel.

“The edge pressure all day was more than what we could really handle — on that No. 2 [offensive] line, for sure,” Richt said.

Miami’s running backs combined for just 115 yards on 31 carries, a 3.7 average. Sophomore Mark Walton led the way with 29 yards and a 1-yard touchdown on seven carries.

“A few runs spit, not a lot,” Richt said. “I thought defensively we played the run pretty darn good.

“The farther away we were, we didn’t really drive the ball well. …It’s kind of what tends to happen in the game. On the drives that started on the 50- or 40 [-yard line], the offense did extremely well. On the drives that started on the other side of the 50, we couldn’t execute well enough to go down the field — whether it was a turnover, or missed assignment, or whatever it may be.”

Richt said the Hurricanes “had a few penalties” on offense, “but I didn’t think it was a massive amount.” The Hurricanes were the most penalized team in the country last season, something Richt is obviously trying to clean up.

“We had ACC officials, and I told them to call it like they call it in a game,” Richt said. “We had a holding on a screen play that you should never have. I don’t really remember any defensive penalties. We didn’t have any alignment issues, or any of that pre-snap stuff. We might have had another holding or something along the way…not a lot of penalties.”

Richt said UM also did some situational third-down work. Richt cited tight end David Njoku and running back Joe Yearby as standouts.

“Njoku — we had a third-and-9 or third-and-10 — caught the ball short of the sticks by 2 or 3 yards, and guys were [hitting] him, and he kept his balance and kept his feet and made a nice run,” Richt said. “Yearby had a play where he probably got hit 2 yards short of the sticks, but he just battled and fought to get that first down on those third-down situations.”

First-team weak-side linebacker Michael Pinckney, who went to the doctor Tuesday to have his hamstring examined, had three tackles in Wednesday’s scrimmage.

“Sometimes it’s just constricted, it’s a cramp, and you don’t really understand the difference,” Richt said. “From what [head athletic trainer] Vinny [Scavo] is saying and the doctors are saying, he has tremendous strength in that area, and they don’t see any weakness at all. We think he’s OK.”