In a game that will likely be decided by how Manny Diaz’ defense contends with a pounding run game, Mark Richt may not have to reach too deeply into his bag of tricks to beat Appalachian State on the road.
He hasn’t so far, even as Miami (2-0) has put up 108 points in its first two games. No Hurricanes team has ever scored more at this point in the schedule. They’re simply dominant, but dominating simply.
“I’d say we’ve probably shown maybe 20 percent, maybe 30 percent of our offense,” quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “There’s plenty more to come.”
Miami called 23 passes against Florida A&M and 29 against Florida Atlantic. By comparison, Kaaya threw 30 or more passes in 10 of 13 games last year. Against FAU, the run game and horizontal passes helped settle Kaaya after two first-half interceptions. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes rushed for 373 and 279 yards, eating up clock once their leads grew. That’s good, since Miami’s opponents will get much tougher than FAMU and FAU.
“That’s huge,” said Kaaya, whose two interceptions last week dropped him to 69th nationally in passer rating. He was 35th last year.
“It makes it harder to scheme us. We can always go back on coach’s old stuff, plays we ran in the spring and earlier this fall and bring those out at any time. Good for us. The first two games, we didn’t really have to pull out too many exotic plays. We were just running our base plays and we showed a couple passes here and there. Last game, we pretty much hit mostly bubbles and a few stop routes and stuff like that.”
Against FAU, Kaaya worked from under center and from the shotgun, spent back nearly half the time dropping back, according to data procured by Friend of Canes Watch Daniel Gould. Interestingly, he didn’t find success using play-action, throwing six of eight passes off-target (with one interception, on a pressure allowed by left tackle Trevor Darling; UM’s pass-protection was a contributing factor to Kaaya’s struggles).
Kaaya, who has been given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage this year, did find success throwing screen passes (often out of run-pass options, where he makes the decision to hand off or throw based on what the defense does). He completed nine of 10 screens for 68 yards, not including a completion called back on a holding penalty to Malcolm Lewis (a call Richt didn’t agree with). Not all the screens led to successful outcomes — one was a yard short of the sticks on third down, another gained one yard on first-and-10 — but Kaaya found at least seven yards on five of them, and gained a short first down on another.
App State has been solid against the pass, aside from a few coverage busts (touchdowns of 67 and 33 yards against Tennessee). The Mountaineers are 27th in opposing quarterback rating, though the 115.27 rating they allowed Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs would rank 51st if duplicated against their second opponent, Old Dominion. App State ranks 70th against the run (3.84 yards per carry), but was very effective in shutting down Tennessee’s ground game (2.95 yards per carry).
Kaaya (29-of-49, 59.2 percent passing, 326 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions) may not have the big numbers through two games, but teams must game-plan to stop his NFL-caliber talent.
“They key on him,” running back Mark Walton said. “That makes it even easier for us. Now they see how we’re running that ball, they’re probably going to try to stop the run. That’ll open up his game.”
Bus parked: Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said he’s pleased with Gus Edwards, who saw action late against FAMU (and gained 106 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown on seven carries) but did not carry the ball against FAU.
“He’s been working his butt off every single day,” Brown said. “There’s only one ball to go around. It’s hard enough trying to get two guys involved in the game, let alone three or four. We’ll see what happens.”
Settling in: Freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, whose teammates have nicknamed him “Wellington” after his hometown, said he wished he stopped and high-pointed the deep ball he dropped against FAMU, which would have gone for 48 yards. Richards caught two passes on three targets for 31 yards. Last week, he produced three catches on four targets for 30 yards.
“[I’m] pretty comfortable,” he said. “My first week when I got here, it was like everything’s fast, but now, I kind of got the tempo, like college speed, and how coach Richt wants to run plays. Everything is high tempo. Honestly, I kind of have it down pat at this point.”
Of his touchdown, which came courtesy of a Braxton Berrios/Stacy Coley-led blocking convoy, Richards said he was “fired up. … When I scored, I just looked at the fans and everything was like a blur.”