Five things we learned from Miami Hurricanes’ 35-21 at Georgia Tech

Hurricanes players celebrate with a large contingent of traveling UM fans at Georgia Tech. (Getty Images)

Hurricanes players celebrate with a large contingent of traveling UM fans at Georgia Tech. (Getty Images)

[Game story | Live blog | Pregame photos, videos, notes]

[Video: breaking down the win from the press box]

[FSU-Miami will be in prime time, on national TV]

[Confident freshmen ready for greater challenges, like FSU]

[Miami’s coaching made a big difference on Saturday]

ATLANTA — A dominant showing? No. Plenty good enough to beat a tricky team on the road? Yes.

Here’s the game story from the 14th-ranked Hurricanes’ two-touchdown win over the Yellow Jackets. There’s also a story on how the young defense passed the triple-option test and how well their coaches prepared them.

Five more takeaways from Miami’s performance this week:

On a high entering FSU, but not too high. 

At 4-0 and sure to climb a couple spots in the rankings, the Hurricanes look good. The stats are sparkling. The young defense is playing well, and the offense is balanced and productive.

They also know there’s plenty to clean up before they face the Seminoles in what should be a jam-packed, loud-as-heck Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday.

They’ve had coverage busts on defense, a few sputters on offense, a few untimely penalties here and there (30 on one play in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech that could have cost them greatly). They’ve played one Power Five opponent so far; the heart of the schedule is here.

Kaaya said the Georgia Tech film will “give us a more realistic picture of what we have to get better at. I thought the defense played phenomenal. They’ve been prepping for this game for a while. The offense, we scored 21 points but we could have done better in a lot of areas. Even though it was good enough to beat Georgia Tech, I don’t know if our performance as an offense was good enough to beat Florida State, or [North Carolina] coming up. We have to get better. That will come with time. It’s only Game 4.”

About those penalties: there were only four of them (good!) but two came on David Njoku on the same play (not good) and given the situation, “could have really killed us,” Mark Richt said.

“We’re sitting there [up] two scores, already in decent field-goal range, if we kick a field goal or score a touchdown, all the air would have come out of it,” he said.  “I’ve got to see what happened, but that’s inexcusable.”

Richt made the right choice

Richt’s return to Atlanta wasn’t perfect. Though he called a strong game, mixing the run and the pass and trying to make the most of the limited opportunity Georgia Tech’s ball-control offense gave Miami’s offense, he had a few miscues.

“The only thing I don’t like about what I did was at the end of the game I threw that ball there on third down and just really should have ate more clock,” he said. “Chew up 40 seconds or take a timeout, one of the two. Third-and-long, not a good call.  Not saying the rest of the game I called beautifully, but that one there I was dreading.”

Remember when Richt was thinking about quitting after Georgia fired him last December? He strongly considered it. Most around him advised him to. But he listened to his maker, and those text messages from former players begging him to continue, and he’s quite happy. The challenge of coaching his alma mater has been rewarding so far.

The hardest part of rebuilding, Richt said, is establishing the expectations and the standards of the program, the way everything is done in every area. That, coupled with his duties of calling plays and coaching quarterbacks, “can wear you out,” he said. “I’m tired, but it’s a good tired.”

But Richt knows what it takes. When he was a first-time head coach at Georgia in 2001, he did not.

“Many times I had my face in the carpet praying and crying,” he said. “But the second time around, you know what you’re in for.”

Much to Miami’s benefit.

The offensive line is coming along 

Miami’s offensive success depends on if Kaaya, who isn’t very mobile, has time to throw. He’s been getting it so far.

An offensive line that struggled badly last year and returned intact has risen to the challenge. Kaaya has been sacked twice for 16 yards, though of course the regular caveat applies: UM hasn’t played dominant defenses. A good showing against an FSU defense that is stout up front would be another major confidence-builder.

Speaking of, sophomore Tyree St. Louis has to be feeling good after filling in at left and right tackle capably. Left tackle Trevor Darling missed most of one series with what appeared to be a lower-body injury; he returned. St. Louis replaced Sunny Odogwu on the right side later in the game.

The middle has been mostly solid, with Danny Isidora in particular creating several big holes at right guard.

Now, can they somehow keep FSU defensive linemen from batting balls?

Joe Yearby isn’t going away quietly

Mark Walton, who scored his 18th career touchdown in his 17th career game, grabbed the No. 1 spot at running back in the spring and hasn’t let it go. With 445 yards and eight touchdowns on 63 carries (7.1 per), he’s looking the part.

But Yearby (321 yards, five touchdowns, 44 carries; 7.3 per) ran like a demon on Saturday. A very patient demon. He and Walton are similar, in that they’re excellent at waiting for blockers and throwing a nasty stiff-arm to get extra yardage. Not sure who I’d give the edge to in that department.

At any rate, Yearby has been just as productive as Walton when his number is called, and that’s helping the offense a ton. Gus Edwards (13-129-1, 9.8) saw a little action on Saturday. He’d be a key back on a lot of teams.

UM’s veteran secondary is improved

While a lot of the headlines went to Miami’s freshmen in the front seven, the seniors in the secondary deserve praise too.

We’ll see how this group contends with real speed at wide receiver — FSU and UNC have some — and whether Dalvin Cook can create missed tackles. But so far, so good — UM coaches worried in the spring they didn’t have enough here.

While the secondary was there to fix mistakes in the run game against Georgia Tech, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said UM’s pass coverage should not be overlooked. Playing man-to-man coverage the whole game put those defensive backs in “such a high-stress environment,” he said.

Corn Elder, who has been stellar this year, broke up an end-zone pass in the fourth quarter. Rayshawn Jenkins got another. “Sometimes you look at the [opposing quarterback’s] numbers and it says 11-for-19 passing, but those eight incompletions were all big-time plays,” Diaz said.

They proved athletic enough to cover receivers all game, and sprint into the alley to cover the run. Elder made a highly entertaining form tackle and planted a running back into the ground. (Thought of new strength coach Gus Felder when I saw that.)

Jenkins and Jamal Carter are tied with freshmen linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney for the team lead in tackles (20), but as it usually is with defensive backs, a greater percentage of Jenkins’ (16) and Carter’s (17) have been solo (Pinckney and Quarterman: 12 each). Elder has 15 tackles, all but one by himself.

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