The Canes wrapped up their spring program, capping off the 15-practice set with its annual spring game Saturday afternoon at Fort Lauderdale Lockhart Stadium.
An estimated 14,000 fans filled the stands as the Hurricanes split into two teams – Green and Orange – and played a 60-minute game.
The Green team – the No. 1 offense with the No. 2 and No. 3 defense – got the win on the scoreboard, defeating the Orange team 24-7 after junior quarterback Brad Kaaya connected with junior receiver Braxton Berrios on a touchdown pass as the final seconds ran off the clock.
Kaaya, who played the entire game leading the Green team, completed 29 of 47 passes for 345 yards with three touchdowns and an interception – his first one thrown in live game situations this spring.
Berrios got a lion’s share of the receptions Saturday, catching eight passes for 127 yards and the late touchdown. Berrios served as the No. 1 receiver during the spring game since senior Stacy Coley did not play due to the tweaked hamstring he suffered during last week’s scrimmage.
Tight end Chris Herndon had a strong showing, hauling in six passes for 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both of Herndon’s touchdowns included him running over would-be tacklers as he plowed into the endzone.
Gus Edwards, who appears to be fully recovered from the foot injury that took the 2015 season away from him, looked good playing for the Orange team – No. 2 offense – carrying the ball 16 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Mark Walton led the Green team with 10 carries for 56 yards; Joe Yearby (Green team) had seven carries for just seven yards but he also added three receptions for 26 yards.
Linebacker Juwon Young (Green team) led all tacklers with eight total stops, but it was freshman middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman who made the biggest impression on fans Saturday.
The early enrollee finished with seven tackles while playing with the No. 1 defense alongside senior Jermaine Grace and fellow freshman Michael Pinckney.
Completing his first spring as the University of Miami head coach, Mark Richt said he was pleased with the way the session went overall.
“It was a lot of fun…I really enjoyed working with these young men,” Richt said. “They are a really fantastic group that worked hard and didn’t bow their neck to anything – took the coaching and took the guidance. They’re really trying to become what we’re asking them to become.”
“Got a lot of work to do and a long way to go…but you look at a group of young men that got a brand new staff and a brand new system – I think they did a good job,” Richt said.
Optimistically, there is a new aura and a new excitement around the program and around the team. Richt and his staff are in the process of wiping the slate clean and getting the Hurricanes football program to a place it didn’t go under the previous regime.
Miami got big-time talents in the form of freshmen linebackers Quarterman, Pinckney and Zach McCloud.
All three have received praise from coaches during the spring for their talents and ability to absorb the new defense.
McCloud showed good flashes as he played outside linebacker with the No. 2 defense. But it’s Pinckney and Quarterman who have risen to the top and continue to impress.
During halftime of the game, it was announced that Pinckney was one of the most improved defensive players of the spring – in line with him being a No. 1 defender – and Quarterman was recognized for his leadership on the defensive unit.
“He’s a tough kid and he’s a smart kid. He loves football, loves this team and he loves this university,” Richt said. “He got co-defensive leadership award and I told him it was more for his characteristics of leadership. I’m not saying you’re the leader of the defense yet – but the characteristics you’re showing are signs of a good leader.”
“Hard work, tough, dependable, taking care of business in the classroom, being coachable – those are signs of a good leader and [Shaq] showed those things,” Richt said.
While there’s still plenty of time from the end of the spring game until the Canes open the 2016 season against Florida A&M, Quarterman – and Pinckney – appear to set for a lot of action on the field.
“I meant a lot to get that award,” said Quarterman, who also told reporters that he’s going back to his high school (Orange Park Oakleaf) to attend prom and see family and friends in the coming weeks. “To come early and jump into the program the way I have, then to be chosen as a leader means a lot. It’s also a humbling award. You can’t get that and just assume you have it made. As a leader, you have to continue to lead.”
The Canes defense was a spot of contention over the past couple of years – fans clamored for the unit to play more aggressively and be more proactive opposed to reactive.
New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz brought with him a 4-3, attacking style scheme that – at its best – is made to get tackles for loss and stop offenses from getting big plays.
After accounting for eight sacks in last week’s scrimmage, the defense as a whole got another four sacks Saturday.
Also, the No. 1 defense stopped the No. 1 offense on a fourth and short; had another handful of tackles behind the line of scrimmage and Corn Elder picked off a Kaaya pass.
Still, Diaz wanted to see more – celebrating.
“We do something good and we just don’t get excited about it,” Diaz said. “It’s the craziest thing, but I want us to play with more passion. On the first series, we stopped them on a fourth down and the guys came off like they were going to detention. We’re still trying to get the Canes to play with more passion. I want to see the guys get more energized when they do something good.”
Running Back Carousel
Walton has all but cemented himself as the No. 1 running back. Like he showed last week, his versatility and his ability to get tough yards in situations that look like minimal gains make him a feature back. Add to that, Walton looked solid in blitz pick-up Saturday. There was one play in particular that stood out where he stepped up and met a blitzing Chad Thomas – giving Kaaya an extra second to make a nice pass for a first down.
Same position, Gus Edwards looks to be as close to 100 percent as you can get. “The Magic School Gus” ran with the Orange team – the No. 2 offense – and he did a lot of positive things against the No. 2 defense. On his first drive of the day, Edwards carried the ball nine times for 50 yards – including a 1-yard touchdown.
With Edwards healthy and proving to be a viable short-yardage and goal-line ball carrier – Yearby may find himself in a battle for touches this season.
Former Players Return
While there was a nice crowd of fans there to cheer on UM, the most prevalent group was the swarm of former UM football players that stood on the sideline during the game and watched the current Canes.
A group of at least 50 players stood and watched the team play – getting back to a time when former Miami greats would routinely walk the sidelines during games to provide support and guidance to the team.
Richt, a former Canes himself, has completely opened the program up to the football alumni and has urged them to come back and rally around the program.
In just their latest way of calling the former Canes back, Miami hosted a dinner social event for former Hurricanes football players Friday night – allowing them to not only reminisce with old teammates but also mingle with the current team.
“I loved it,” Richt said. “It’s about the camaraderie of being a Cane and supporting the young guys.”