By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer
MIAMI GARDENS (CBS Miami) – Miami stayed in the hunt for that elusive ACC Coastal title, defeating visiting Virginia Tech 30-20 Saturday.
The Hurricanes (4-2, 1-1 ACC), who will host No. 5 Clemson next week, did show some positive signs against the Hokies (3-4, 1-2) that they can build upon going into their showdown with the undefeated Tigers.
Coaching = C-plus
This is the highest grade for the Canes coaching staff up to this point.
Initially, I was happy to see Golden – and offensive James Coley and O-line coach Art Kehoe – making changes to the offensive line.
The group has been struggling for the past month and they were trying to mix it up and see if that provided a spark.
Then, once the musical chairs continued and the struggles across the line continued, I just thought that all the shifting made matters a little worse.
It’s still a negative to continue to start Dallas Crawford at safety – although he wasn’t as big a liability Saturday as he’s been the past three games.
I felt Coley’s play-calling in the red zone was better. He kept the ball in Kaaya’s hands and allowed his star quarterback to make the right decisions and to make plays.
The coaching staff got a big break when Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer out-coached himself late in the first half. Miami appeared to be content with running out the clock after the Hokies tied the game at 13 with just under a minute to play before halftime. The Canes ran the ball twice, drawing boos from the crowd, and Beamer called two timeouts.
But Virginia Tech jumped offsides and Kaaya connected with Herb Waters for a 45-yard completion on the “free play” and that gave Golden the nudge he needed to let his offense attack.
Quarterback = A-minus
Kaaya looked good Saturday. He completed 19 of his 30 passes for 296 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but more importantly he didn’t turn the ball over and he was better in his progressions in the pocket.
On the drive after Virginia Tech closed the gap to 23-20, Kaaya led the Canes 75 yards down the field in nine plays – the ninth play a scoring strike to Rashawn Scott.
The most impressive thing about that play was that Kaaya worked his eyes all the way back to the opposite side of the field to see Scott had beaten his one-on-one coverage in the middle of the endzone.
I also liked the way Kaaya avoided sacks Saturday. The five guys in front of him changed around a few times, but still he only took one sack on the day.
“Brad is the same every day,” Stacy Coley said. “He’s consistent. He takes every practice, every meeting seriously. Even on the way to the games, he’s in his notes, making sure he’s on top of all the checks. That’s just Brad.”
Running Backs = B-minus
There was little this group could do to get a higher grade than this.
And, admittedly, the grade is pretty high for a group that only averaged 2.5 yards per carry Saturday.
Joe Yearby finished with 60 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and Mark Walton only had 37 yards on 12 carries.
But Yearby was a factor as a pass catcher. He caught three balls for 51 yards – including a one-handed grab in the first quarter.
There was a Walter Tucker sighting – as he gained two yards on a third and short run.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends = B-plus
The receivers played well Saturday. The depth of the group is showing and because Stacy Coley is healthy and making plays, opposing teams have a hard time covering him, Scott and Waters all game.
The chemistry between the receivers and Kaaya is starting to show on a consistent basis.
Coley’s play is big, but I think Waters is the lynchpin of the group.
Waters can work inside or outside and he’s a nightmare for slot receivers. He consistently beat Florida State’s Jaylen Ramsey last week, but just wasn’t able to get the ball thrown his way.
David Njoku made a big reception Saturday. It came on a crucial third and three as Miami was driving while leading 23-20. Kaaya extended the play by escaping the pocket and he found Njoku for 23 yards down to the Hokies 5-yard line.
Offensive Line = C-minus
Even I think this grade is generous and I was the one that handed it out.
UM’s offensive line woes continue.
Coaches tried mixing things up Saturday, but the issues remained.
Four different linemen were called for false starts, the running game was a non-factor and Kaaya spent chunks of the game under considerable pressure.
Even though they only officially gave up one sack, Kaaya took some big shots Saturday.
“Brad is taking harder hits than I am,” receiver Rashawn Scott said.
That’s not good.
I’m not a fan of doing too much non-injury forced mixing and matching along the offensive line during a game. The group can’t build any continuity because you’re not sure which guy will be lining up to you on the next series.
Miami has to find a way to do better at the point of attack if the run game is to improve. The pass protection has to get better because there’s a prized gem in the backfield that cannot get damaged.
“I feel like we have the right guys…I feel like we’re rotating the right guys,” Golden said. “But I’m going to let them sort it out. Who wants to start, who’s played well tonight, who needs to improve…all that. I feel like we have more guys than we did five or six weeks ago and I want that group to continue to push forward.”
Defensive Line = C-plus
The combo of Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas is really starting to turn things on.
Over the past three weeks, the pair has each been pressuring the edge and I’ve seen them be held by opposing offensive tackles on their way to the quarterback.
“I expect to get held,” Muhammad said. “The other teams watch film, they understand what I bring to the table. So I expect them to hold. But I don’t let it frustrate me. I keep my poise and try to be the same player every play.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Anthony Moten continues to play strong. He was able to generate some pressure from the middle of the line. He did have one knuckle-headed negative play – a roughing the passer penalty on a third down during the fourth quarter.
Still this group needs to generate more pressure on the quarterback. Too often Virginia Tech’s quarterbacks were able to stand in the pocket and make throws.
The lack of pass rush has been one of Miami’s stubbed toes this year, today was better, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Linebackers = B
This might have been the linebackers’ best performance of the season as a whole.
Certainly the loss of senior Raphael Kirby was heartbreaking – as his injury appears to be very serious.
However, Juwon Young came in and gave this defense a huge spark.
He finished with four tackles – one for loss – and he picked off a pass.
After the game, he spoke confidently about stepping in and stepping up Saturday – and beyond.
“I’ve just been waiting on my chance, preparing for my moment,” Young said. “Raphael always tells me in practice to stay on his level. And I kept preparing knowing that I’d have to be ready to step up. I feel like I’m the captain now. I’m the [middle] linebacker, the quarterback of the defense.”
Jermaine Grace was credited with a full sack and he was robbed of an interception in the first quarter when officials ruled that his foot was on the pylon as he cradled a Motley pass.
Redshirt freshman Mike Smith saw playing time Saturday – registering a pair of solo tackles and Tyriq McCord was second on the team in total tackles with five.
Tackling in the open field was OK, not great; but the middle of Miami’s defense was solid Saturday.
Defensive Backs = B
Artie Burns picked of his fifth pass on the season.
Burns has come a long way since his days as an All-American sprinter and developing football player at Miami Northwestern.
He’s improved upon his technique and his dedication to his football craft is showing.
“I’m just trusting my technique, putting in the work during the offseason to get better,” Burns said when asked about his uptick in performance this season. “Now I’m just making plays.”
Yes, Isaiah Ford did catch his touchdown pass over Burns. But to Burns’ credit, he was in good position and gave Ford very little room to make the play. Ford made a great play – narrowly getting his foot inbounds on the catch against Burns’ coverage.
Virginia Tech was only able to total 201 passing yards on the day. Part of that could be credited to the slightly improved pass rush that the defensive line provided, but credit the secondary for cutting down on the explosive plays that it allowed.
Special Teams = A
Michael Bagdley set a new career-long when he knocked in a 49-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
“Jersey Mike” was perfect on the day, connecting on all three of his field goals and all of his extra points.
True freshman Sheldrick Redwine made three nice tackles in special team return coverage. His first tackle set the stage for Miami’s first touchdown when he stopped the Hokies return at his own 10-yard line. Two plays later, the Canes were able to recover a fumble at the seven, which allowed Yearby to plow into the endzone for the first score of the day.
Overall Grade = B-minus
Overall it was a pretty good showing by the Hurricanes.
They snapped the two-game losing streak and they avoided the malaise that has fell upon this team after losing to rival Florida State.
Kaaya continues to separate himself as the best quarterback in the ACC and Miami’s defense continues to feast on turnovers.
The play of the offensive line is still a big concern, but the coaching staff is mixing it up trying to find the right group of five that can keep Kaaya upright and pave way for the talented group of running backs.
Defensively, Miami must remain aggressive. Losing Kirby could have long term ramifications – as his leadership on and off the field will be missed. But Young’s performance during the game and the confidence that he spoke with after the game is a positive sign.
Obviously, with one of the top teams in the country coming to town next week, Miami can’t let their guard down. The win over Virginia Tech is something to use as a stepping stone not as a pass to pat themselves on the back.
Kaaya gets it.
“They’re the Clemson Tigers, we’re the Miami Hurricanes,” Kaaya said. “They have some dudes, we have some dudes too.”