By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer
It hasn’t been a typical year for Miami Hurricanes football in 2015.
A coach was fired, there was a bad string of injuries, the team suffered two of the worst losses in school history, a coach was hired, and the team had greatest play in football history.
So it was only fitting that the Canes would have to deal with freezing temperatures and blizzard-like snowfall during its bowl game.
Ironically, the 2015 Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas was played in sleet and snowy conditions as the Hurricanes fell to Washington State 20-14 Friday afternoon – continuing’s Miami’s bowl game losing streak.
The Hurricanes, which trailed 20-7 at halftime, had two chances to win the game late. Trailing 20-14 with just over six minutes to play in the game, Miami worked its way down inside the Washington State (9-4) 5-yard line.
Freshman running back Mark Walton appeared to have scored on a screen pass, but senior receiver Herb Waters was called for a block in the back penalty, nullifying the score. The drive ended two plays later when Walton fumbled the ball inside the Cougars’ 4-yard line.
Miami’s defense, which held the typically offensively potent Cougars scoreless in the second half, forced a punt and hand the Canes offense the ball back with just under three minutes to play.
Starting on the Washington State 28-yard line, UM (8-5) elected to try a halfback pass – but the ball appeared to slip out of Joe Yearby’s hands during the throw and the ball floated right into the hands of Wazzu’s Shalon Luani.
Miami only had one timeout remaining and Washington State sealed the game when it rushed for a pair of first downs.
Yearby finished with 63 yards on 14 attempts, giving him 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Braxton Berrios led all rushers with 73 yards, 60 of which came on a fourth quarter run out of the “Wildcat” formation, which led to a Walton score. Walton finished the game with 12 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards.
Sophomore Brad Kaaya spent much of the second half under major duress, but was able to complete 17 of 31 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception – a first quarter turnover that would’ve been a touchdown but the would-be reception was knocked out of Rashawn Scott’s hands and into the hands of a Washington State’s defender.
Scott struggled for most of the day, but still finished with a game-high 75 receiving yards on five catches. Stacy Coley caught Kaaya’s only touchdown and ended with three receptions for 44 yards.
Overall Grade = C-minus
The day after Christmas marked the official end of the Al Golden error, I mean era, of Hurricanes football. It ended pretty much the way it has always been under the “Mr. Orange Tie” a loss that took fans through a gamut of negative emotions.
Coaching = D-minus
The grade the coaching staff is receiving falls squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator James Coley.
With the offense on the brink of being in the red zone and being in position to its first lead of the day, Coley chooses to dial up a – wait for it – halfback pass.
A halfback pass?
A halfback pass.
It’s snowing; your quarterback was in rhythm because of the success he found on the previous drive; there’s 2:58 left in the game – and you decide to run a halfback pass?
There are few calls that Coley could have made that would have been worse than that one. And it’s not based on the result – which was an interception – because even if he completes the pass, it would’ve still been a highly risky play call.
Because it ended up as a turnover that salted the game away, that only makes it exponentially worse.
Yes, going to the “Wildcat” with Yearby led to Berrios’ 60-yard run. But Yearby is a running back – a ball carrier.
The play call, which received instant and vitriolic criticism on social media, led me to believe he went over to defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio and whispered: “this one’s for Al.”
Quarterbacks = C
Kaaya put on an average performance Saturday.
The ups and the downs pretty much washed each other out.
What didn’t help is that Kaaya was on his back more than a mechanic. The offensive line in front of him let him down as worse as it has all season. There were some instances where Kaaya tried to hang in the pocket to make throws – and he ended up paying for it big time.
Also, I didn’t like how Kaaya seemed to be force-feeding the ball to Rashawn Scott, who had his own set of issues Saturday.
Still Kaaya is probably the best pocket passing quarterback in the ACC and I’d venture to say that he’s one of the better quarterbacks in the college football. Playing for Mark Richt next season should do wonders for his career moving forward.
Running Backs = C-plus
Congratulations to Joe Yearby on eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in rushing yards for this season. Yearby was one of this team’s most consistent weapons despite poor offensive line play, which made it hard to really ever establish a running-game.
The only blame I place on Yearby for that interception on the halfback pass is that he actually tried to throw the ball. Granted, he was doing what the play calls for and the intended receiver was kind of open, he still could’ve chosen to run the ball and get to second down.
Regardless of his late fumble, Mark Walton is a stud. He’s one of the most talented athletes Miami has had in its backfield.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends = D-plus
A lot of this grade is because of Rashawn Scott’s struggles.
Throughout this season, Scott has been very reliable target for Kaaya, especially in the red zone. It could’ve been the coldness and the snow that had him off his game, but Scott had multiple drops that turned into drive killers.
I give Scott credit for sticking with it and finishing with five catches. But he legitimately could’ve had double that.
Stacy Coley looked good early in what could’ve been his last game as a Cane. But he disappeared late.
David Njoku and Chris Herndon each had one catch – nothing game changing. And Herndon struggled when he lined up on the line to run block.
Offensive Line = D-minus
Miami’s offensive line has been bad this season.
Has performed worse than it did Saturday? I’d say so.
But this performance is the most fresh.
Trevor Darling continued to struggle at left tackle. He was beaten multiple times at the point of attack which led to sacks.
Alex Gall and Nick Linder each gave up sacks.
Miami was only able to rush for 114 yards – and more than half of that came on one play. The Canes offensive line was unable to get any push at the line of scrimmage and they could barely keep Washington State defenders off of Kaaya.
Defensive Line = C-plus
Unfortunately Miami was unable to get a consistent pass rush on Washington State, but this group played hard.
Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas both showed a lot of fight, in spite of getting held a lot – which they have routinely been all season.
It was good to see Richard McIntosh and Demetrius Jackson combine for the first half sacks of their respective careers.
Linebackers = C
This group didn’t do anything to stand out in a good way or a bad way.
Jermaine Grace had a handful of good plays in pass coverage and Tyriq McCord registered a sack.
But the poor tackling in the open field, something the team has struggled with all season, continued to be an issue Saturday.
Defensive Backs = D-plus
The secondary was already thin coming into this game, stemming from the suspension of safety Jamal Carter prior to the game.
Then, Rayshawn Jenkins got suspended for “targeting” during the second quarter, leaving freshman Jaquan Johnson to play most of the second half.
Johnson filled in admirably, but the secondary as a whole was lackluster.
Artie Burns, most likely in his final game as a Hurricane, didn’t showcase the cover skills that made him a fan favorite this season. He’s overly aggressive and played too “handsy” for the officials’ liking – drawing a couple of penalties.
Also, he had a dropped interception. Johnson had a dropped pick. Multiple players dropped would-be INT’s against Washington State Luke Falk, who showed a tendency to throw the ball high over receivers.
Special Teams = D-plus
This grade belongs to kicker Jon Semerene and punter Justin Vogel.
Semerene kicked his sixth kickoff out of bounds this season.
Vogel had a pair of ugly punts during the first half, which helped Washington State build its 20-7 halftime lead. Vogel did rebound, but the damage had already been done.
Michael Badgley didn’t even have to make the trip to El Paso. The team didn’t attempt any field goals – electing to go for it on fourth down to keep pace with the Cougars.