Miami Hurricanes football: Mark Richt not worried about Brad Kaaya’s slow start

Brad Kaaya hands off to Joe Yearby against FAU. (Getty Images)

Brad Kaaya hands off to Joe Yearby against FAU. (Getty Images)

[Five things to know about Appalachian State]

[Hurricanes showing early signs of ‘spectacular’ defense]

[Kaaya on offense: 2-0 is only stat I care about]

[Five things we learned from Miami 38, FAU 10]

[Miami ranked No. 25 this week]

Statistically speaking, Brad Kaaya had the one of the worst games of his career in UM’s 38-10 win over Florida Atlantic. His passer rating (93.69) was second-lowest of his career. He threw two interceptions for the first time since Oct. 4 of his freshman year (he threw five picks all of last year). His completion percentage (54.8) tied his third-lowest in any game.

But like Kaaya, who said Saturday that Miami’s 2-0 record is the only stat he cares about, Richt isn’t worried that his junior quarterback and potential first-round NFL draft prospect didn’t light up FAU.

“He’s in a good spot,” Richt said Monday on WQAM.  “Some of it was just flat-out the protection issues, some was a couple dropped balls, and he missed a few wide-open guys. We can’t do that and really be effective. We could have worked ourselves out of it by throwing and throwing and throwing, in my opinion, but we have the ability to run the football, and if that’s what we have to do to settle the game down that’s what we’re going to do.”

Richt chalked Kaaya’s first pick to a coaching mistake. Kaaya threw his first pick to middle linebacker Nate Ozdemir, who was waiting on a pass intended for Stacy Coley. Richt said Kaaya was coached to hit the slant if the Sam and Mike linebackers blitzed. In the game, Kaaya dropped three steps and looked to fire — a “reflex action” to “rip it in there” — but “the Sam came but the Mike didn’t.”

Seems like the Owls did their homework on Richt’s passing game concepts, too.

Richt has put in Kaaya more trust than a coach ever has, and he’s learning a new offense with new concepts, so it stands to reason there will be some kinks as everyone gets on the same page. Not his best game, but it shouldn’t be cause for concern unless he keeps throwing picks and missing receivers. Would guess he looks more comfortable as the season wears on.

One way to improve his performance: protect him. On the second pick, Kaaya was hit as he was thrown. Left tackle Trevor Darling had a tough time with FAU defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

Not much coach or quarterback could do about that.

Against FAU, Miami’s offense settled down once Kaaya began working horizontally instead of vertically. After the second interception, he closed 11-of-14 for 86 yards, keeping the offensive moving while Mark Walton and Joe Yearby struck the heaviest blows.

A hallmark of Richt’s tenure at Georgia was establishing a bullish run game to open up the pass. Consider the run established.

The 25th-ranked Hurricanes bring one of the nation’s most productive ground games to Appalachian State (1-1) at noon Saturday (ESPN). UM ranks second nationally in yards per carry (8.69) and touchdowns (10) and sixth in yards per game (326).

Richt is excited about Walton (“a complete back”) and Yearby, who rank eighth and 20th nationally in rushing yards, respectively. He’s also pleased with their teammates.

Though the offensive line hasn’t consistently given Kaaya a wide enough pocket, Richt said Miami’s run blocking has been “exceptional.” He spotlighted senior right guard Danny Isidora (“probably playing the best of them”) and left guard Kc McDermott had more pancake blocks than anyone.

Not only that, fullback Marquez Williams is “knocking people out of the box” and UM’s tight ends and receivers are dominating.

“I’ve seen more downfield blocking in two weeks than I think I saw the last two seasons,” he said, which for Georgia fans probably isn’t pleasant to read.

Miami is winning on the second and third levels so regularly, Richt said, they’re getting penalized for it. Likely referring to a Malcolm Lewis holding call in the second quarter, he said some of UM’s penalties were just “pure effort,” not infractions.

“I’ve got receivers blocking their tails off downfield and sometimes in a dominating fashion,” he said, noting he was highly displeased some of UM’s other flags (nine in total, for 90 yards). “I don’t think officials are used to seeing that. I think they’re thinking they must be holding if they’re blocking that good.”

App State can run-block, too. In fact, that’s what raised Richt’s eyebrows on the first play of the Tennessee game. He said the Mountaineers’ center and guard double-teamed Tennessee’s nose guard and a linebacker “and ran them both out of bounds. It’s amazing how they got after it.”

The Mountaineers were ranked by Pro Football Focus as the nation’s best run-blocking offensive line. Click here for more on App State.

“Here’s what I see,” Richt said. “Those guys across the board are not quite as tall, not quite as heavy as most Power Five teams. But they’re just as athletic or more, they’re well-coached, they play hard as heck, they play with a chip on their shoulder. They fear nobody. To be in their place — I’m being told this is the biggest event that’s ever been in their town. We’ve got to be ready to rock and roll with these guys.”

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