It wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as last week’s 67-point victory, but the Canes will have to take it.
Despite a sloppy first half from its offense, No. 25 (AP) ranked Miami got a career performance from sophomore running back Mark Walton as it came away with a 38-10 victory over visiting Florida Atlantic University Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium in front of 57,123 fans.
Walton ended his career night with 155 yards on 17 carries, also producing four touchdowns. Junior Joe Yearby added 121 yards and tacked on the final score of the night – a 2-yard plunge that gave the Canes their final 38-10 lead with a minute to play in the game.
But it was Walton’s final two touchdowns of the night each showcased why the sophomore is Miami’s No. 1 ball-carrier.
He gave the Canes a 24-3 third quarter lead on a spectacular run in which he spun past one defender, jetted to the sideline and dove into the endzone; on his fourth score of the night he took a handoff going left, but cut back all the way to the right and outraced the entire Owls defense for a 30-yard touchdown – putting Miami up 31-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Hurricanes (2-0), who will travel to Appalachian State next week, only held a 14-3 lead over the Owls (1-1) but put rode the play of its defense and Walton’s running to put some distance between themselves and FAU in the second half.
Miami’s defense showed itself to be a unit capable of carrying the team – holding Florida Atlantic to just 214 yards of offense while generating seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Sophomore defensive lineman RJ McIntosh and freshman linebacker Michael Pinckney starred in the first half, combining to account for 10 tackles (2.5 for loss) and a pair of sacks – both by the freshman. Senior safety Rayshawn Jenkins intercepted a pass and junior defensive end Chad Thomas, who appeared to sustain an upper extremity injury during the first half, recorded one official sack but was instrumental in Miami’s pressuring of FAU quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Freshman defensive end Joe Jackson led the team with two sacks – his second coming on the final play of the game.
FAU offense, which employs an uptempo, no-huddle style, could never get much going against the Canes’ defense. Driskel was harassed by the Canes defensive front for much of the night and only completed 18 of 36 passes for 167 yards with an interception while the lone bright spot came from junior running back Greg Howell, who finished with 75 yards – including the Owls’ only touchdown of the night, a 38-yard scamper late in the third quarter.
Still, Howell’s run is the only touchdown the Miami defense has given up this season.
Brad Kaaya did not have a great day Saturday. He finished 17 for 31 for 191 yards – but he missed on multiple throws and threw a pair of first-half interceptions, the second of which led to an FAU field goal.
Kaaya’s struggles could be directly tied Miami’s early offensive struggles. The Canes didn’t get on the board until midway through the second quarter when Walton busted through the Owls defense for a 7-yard scoring run with 7:53 left in the second quarter.
Kaaya said he wasn’t too down about his individual performance.
“You can’t let stuff like that rattle you,” Kaaya said. “You can’t let it take away from your other responsibilities. Not everyone sees it but, I have other responsibilities: getting us in the right play, the right formation, right protection, stuff like that. And you can’t let bad stuff frazzle you in other areas.”
“As a quarterback – you have to be a warrior and be able to bounce back no matter how the game is going and get your team in the right place to win the game. And I’m all about wins. If had thrown for 400 yards and we lost, people would’ve been saying that this was the worst day ever. So I’m fine with wins,” Kaaya added.
Another negative takeaway from Miami’s win Saturday was the increased number of penalties the team committed.
UM was flagged nine times for 90 yards against the Owls, including a roughing the kicker penalty during a punt – which extended an FAU drive – and an unsportsmanlike penalty during a kickoff return that gave the Owls better starting position.
The Canes committed just six penalties last week against Florida A&M after playing almost the entire first half of that game penalty-free.
Miami was a heavily penalized team in 2015, ranking among the worst teams in the country in terms of the number of penalties and penalty yards.
Coach Richt expressed his displeasure about Saturday’s penalties.
“Very disappointing on the penalties. Some of them, there’s just no excuse whatsoever. The roughing the kicker [penalty]…we can’t do that,” Richt lamented. “Especially after playing that good of defense, we can’t do that. We either have to get better at that technique or just not come after it.”
“We [have to] get better. I don’t want this to be a recurring theme. Just not enough discipline and I’m not doing a good enough job of sending the message,” Richt added.
Taking into account the level of competition Miami has played in the first two games of the season, it’s still impressive that the Canes have put up a total 108 points in the two contests.
That number is good enough to put this year’s UM team in first place in school history for most points scored in the first two games of the season.
Given the rich history that the program has, it’s an impressive feat for this relatively young squad.
When told of the team’s accomplishment, Kaaya questioned the validity of it.
“Really? Not even the 2001 team?” Kaaya asked, referring to UM’s record-setting 2001 National Championship team. “Not even like 1993? Wow. That’s interesting. That’s a great sign. But we can’t get complacent…the good teams get better as the season goes on.”