What’s ailing QB Brad Kaaya, Miami Hurricanes’ offense?

Brad Kaaya is sacked with 1:38 left in the Miami-UNC game. The Tar Heels recovered his fumble. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Brad Kaaya is sacked with 1:38 left in the Miami-UNC game. The Tar Heels recovered his fumble. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Rushing for 300 yards, scoring 70 points — nobody expected that to continue for the University of Miami. It was a given that once the ACC schedule kicked in, so would the brakes on this juggernaut.

But just as UM’s top 10 ranking has disappeared, so has the video-game-speed offense. With the Hurricanes failing to crack 20 points the past two weeks, the search for answers ranges from an offensive line that has broken down in pass protection to running backs and receivers suddenly silenced.

Also speaking volumes: Several players and coaches talked Tuesday of the need for all 11 players to be on the same wavelength, suggesting communication isn’t right. And that’s a problem, considering Thursday’s game is at raucous Virginia Tech.

But beyond all this is the focal point of the offense — what’s supposed to be the given in this equation — junior quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Brad Kaaya throws downfield against Florida State. (Getty Images)

Brad Kaaya throws downfield against Florida State. (Getty Images)

Despite gaining a quarterback for a head coach in Mark Richt, Kaaya is averaging a career-low 228 yards per game, a drop of 41 yards from a year ago and 18 off his freshman season. After six games, he’s already one interception shy of his season total of five last year. For a player thought to be auditioning for the NFL, that’s a big bite out of his production — bite being the key word.

Kaaya was rocked so hard early against Florida State two weeks ago he lost the most famous molar in South Florida. The last-ditch effort against North Carolina on Saturday ended with a strip-sack-fumble.

It’s no wonder that when pass protection was mentioned, offensive line coach Stacy Searels snapped, “Did you watch the game? Did you see the last two plays? Not very dang good.”

No need to drill that into his players. Seeing that tooth rolling on the grass, lineman Tyree St. Louis said, “was a terrible thing for us. That made us try to step our game up a little bit more.”

Kaaya has found sidestepping questions about his performance easier than sidestepping defensive linemen.

“I’ll have to look back on that towards the end of the season,” he said. “You can’t really dwell too much on a couple of games. I think we started off pretty good. Just overall as an offense we just didn’t execute the last couple of games. We just have to get everyone on the same page. It starts with me.”

At least one anonymous NFL scout agrees. A recent analysis on NFL.com described Kaaya as “average,” needing a “clean pocket” to be effective and being “non-athletic” — terms not associated with his game before.

Whether it’s fair to pin that much on Kaaya is a question. First, consider how much the offense as a whole has sputtered. UM was averaging 51 points per game in its rise to No. 10. That has been sliced to 22.3 against tougher, ACC opponents. But interestingly enough, the primary difference has been in the running game, where the average plummeted from 7.7 per carry to 3.46. Rushing yards per game has dropped even more, from 272 to 105.

The surprise: The passing game has suffered only marginally, from 242 yards per game to 226.

“We’re in the right position, we’re just not making the plays,” running back Mark Walton said of the offense in general. “The play-calling is there. Everybody’s just got to make the plays. We’re killing ourselves.”

Richt, a former All-State quarterback at Boca High, said when he assesses quarterbacks, he looks more at passing accuracy than actual completion percentages.

“And so if a play is protected well and he’s directing a ball to a receiver, if he throws it on the money, whether he catches it or not, he’ll get a positive grade,” Richt said.

Meaning?

“He’s missed a couple of shots but if you watch anybody across America, even in the NFL, not everybody hits it right on the money,” Richt said. “But I think he’s adjusted well. … He’s really been a very good leader for us.”

Asked where he looks as he seeks answers, Richt said, “Make sure everybody understands their assignments.”

Searels, a former Hokies offensive line coach, knows Blacksburg isn’t the place you go for a nice, quiet conversation.

“It’ll be loud and it’ll be electric,” he said.

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown can handle electric. What he can’t handle is seeing his offense short-circuited by down-and-distance as Richt tries to call plays.

“You get in third-and-25, third-and-17, there’s not many great calls that can be made,” Brown said.

As far as deep passes go, Brown said, “We’ve got to complete them. We’ve got guys open. I think part of it comes down to making sure our protection is solid enough for where Brad can step up and deliver balls. But when it comes down to our receivers and our tight ends being matched up with guys one on one, we’re going to have some opportunities to take some shots and get some guys open because they’ll run past people. They’ve done it consistently.

“We’ve just got to be able to connect and make those shots. They can flip a field and flip a game.”

And, the 4-2 Hurricanes hope, flip a season.

[Miami’s D-line missing key players heading into VT]

[Assessing ACC Coastal race at midpoint]

[UM falls out of polls | Porter’s AP ballot]

[UNC-UM: 5 things we learned | Video: breaking it down]

[Dave George: Banged-up Kaaya searching for answers]

[The good, bad and ugly of Miami’s offense]

[Injuries piling up for Hurricanes]

[Richt wants ACC to explain controversial UNC TD]

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