Gino Torretta won the Heisman Trophy in his senior year at Miami.
He has no issue with Brad Kaaya giving up any chance to do the same.
Torretta, who won the top award in college football in 1992, said he supported Kaaya’s declaration he will enter the NFL draft a year early, and said he will likely have a good pro career.
“You look at what he’s done: [throwing for nearly] 10,000 yards, [holding nearly] every record [at UM],” Torretta said on WQAM. “If he thinks there’s a chance to win a national championship based on what they have coming back, then you make a different decision.
“Just a hunch, but when you get your tooth broken” — as Kaaya did against Florida State — “and I think he’s been knocked out a time or two this season,” Torretta said. “I think he’d rather get paid to be knocked out.”
Torretta, a Sirius XM commentator, said Kaaya experiencing a college head coaching switch “will work in his favor” in the forever-changing NFL. Asked if he would recommend an NFL team draft him, he said it depends on the scheme and coaching staff.
“I like the kid,” Torretta said. “I think he’s done everything Miami’s ever asked and hasn’t complained, even though he’s had some crappy teams and some crappy schemes at times. … He can make all the throws. He could improve his mobility a little bit, but some of that stuff is [him being asked] to stay in the pocket.
Assessing him from a physical standpoint, Torretta said Kaaya has “fine” throwing velocity, “he can make the deep comeback, the 15-, 20-yard out route, which is the hardest throw in the game,” and is “a lot bigger than you think [and] will run a faster 40 time than you think.
“You always need good quarterback play in that league because of the injuries those guys have. I see him being very successful at the next level.
“It all comes down to the guys around him.”
Kaaya is one of the best Miami quarterbacks from a statistical standpoint — he is No. 1 in career passing yards, completions, attempts and is third in touchdowns — but went 1-2 in bowls, didn’t win an ACC title, didn’t beat Florida State, didn’t win 10 games and didn’t win a major national award (the ACC rookie of the year was the most prominent trophy in his case, unless you count the Russell Athletic Bowl MVP). So, Gino: where do you rank him among Miami’s best quarterbacks?
“I don’t know how you compare. The teams I played on were a little bit better than the teams he played on,” Torretta said, dryly. “To come in when he did and a lot of the guys he’s leaving with, they came in with tremendous risk: ‘Is Miami going to get the death penalty?’ That’s what [opposing] coaches were telling them. If you look at his personal stats, obviously he broke all my records a long time ago. I think it’s really hard to compare guys who played in my era or [Ken] Dorsey, who had phenomenal talent around him.
“Name one guy Kaaya’s played with who could even play with Dorsey. I don’t think you can compare. I think he’s been a great kid, a hell of a player, done the best with the hand he was dealt.
“‘Quarterback U’ became Quarterback U because of great players around [the quarterbacks] and great defenses.”
What does Torretta think of Miami’s first year under Mark Richt?
“I thought they ended it well,” he said. “Obviously that stretch in the middle — the Florida State game sucked. I guess that was karma for Wide Right I, II, III and IV and whatever other games. The disappointing one was, how the hell did we lose to Notre Dame? … I think it was a good start, but I’m a little bit disappointed in that Notre Dame game.”
Does he know anything about the quarterbacks who could replace Kaaya?
“You’ve seen about as much as I have,” he said. “I would say this: there are some talented young men on this team. … There will be enough talent and competition, and if the defense gets better, I think we’ll be all right.”
Asked if the Hurricanes have “turned the corner” as a program, Torretta said he’ll wait until signing day and see what battles Miami has won.
“If we beat FSU or Florida or Alabama or Georgia for one or two recruits,” he said, “then I’ll say we have turned the corner.”
Yearby, who rushed for 1,002 yards and six touchdowns in 2015, was passed by sophomore Mark Walton in spring practice and by the end of the year, he split carries with redshirt junior Gus Edwards in a backup role.
Walton racked up 1,357 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns and was named Miami’s overall team MVP by the coaching staff. Yearby was second on the team in rushing yards (608) and touchdowns (seven), gaining a team-best 6.0 yards per carry.
He posted — and later deleted — on Instagram after Miami’s regular-season finale against Duke on Nov. 26 that it was his “Last Home Game As A Cane.” Yearby has not been made available for interviews since.
Walton enters the 2017 season as the Hurricanes’ clear-cut No. 1 back. Edwards will be in an increased role — if he does not transfer. The Staten Island, N.Y. native, according to UM sources, has explored a move closer to home (Syracuse recruited him heavily out of high school), and posted on social media before the Russell Athletic Bowl that it would be his last game in a Miami uniform. The Hurricanes’ coaching staff has been trying to convince him to stay.
Other backs in the mix include sophomore-to-be Travis Homer, who impressed on special teams in his first year, and two recruits Miami plans to sign. Miami-Gulliver Prep’s Robert Burns committed to UM during his sophomore season in high school, and Miami is considered the favorite for Maryland-based Anthony McFarland.
In a statement released through UM, Yearby said his time at UM was “truly memorable” and said the school “shaped me into the person I am today. Miami has been and always will be my home and I look forward to remaining a part of the South Florida community for years to come.”
Coach Mark Richt said Yearby, a four-star recruit in the 2014 class from Miami Central High, informed him of his decision Tuesday. “I was able to thank Joe for everything he did for our program,” Richt said in a statement. “I wish him the very best.”
He finished his three-year career with 2,119 yards (ninth in UM history) and 14 touchdowns. He started 13 games, all in 2015, and played in 38. He had seven 100-yard rushing games (tied for ninth).
His NFL draft stock is unclear. Yearby, who has two young children, is rated 20th among running backs in the 2018 class by CBS Sports. Though he is a shifty, tough runner, he does not have great size (5-foot-9, 209 pounds) or breakaway speed, and will likely have to show a willingness to play on special teams to stick in the league.
It boasts a Heisman winner (Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson) and a national finalist: Clemson, which plays Alabama on Monday for the title. Entering that game, the league’s teams are 8-3 in bowls. No other conference can match that. It could have five programs in the final rankings: the Tigers, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami and probably Louisville, despite its loss to LSU.
Change comes yearly in college, but the ACC will be a different league next season.
Especially on the Coastal side.
As pointed out by Roanoke Times writer Andy Bitter in a tweet, there’s a lot of change coming. Two top quarterbacks are leaving school early (Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans) and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is expected to join them. Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Pitt’s Nathan Peterman are graduating. Not only does Pitt lose Peterman, its offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, is heading to LSU, and standout running back James Conner is turning pro. Virginia Tech will also lose top wideouts Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges to the draft.
So where does Miami fit in? The Hurricanes must answer questions at quarterback, along with defensive back, offensive line and to a lesser extent, the offensive skill positions.
Especially for a Mark Richt team, it all starts with the quarterback.
After Kaaya’s announcement Monday evening, a look at who could challenge for the starting job:
Will be a: redshirt freshman
As a recruit: four-star from Palmetto High; No. 6 pro-style QB (ESPN), No. 8 (247), No. 9 (Rivals)
Size: 6-foot-5, 200 pounds
Stats: (two pre-spring game scrimmages in 2016) 13 yards on 2-for-5 passing; (senior year) more than 1,400 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions on 62.1 percent passing
Skills: height, arm strength, accuracy
Needs to improve: poise, size, decision-making
Breakdown: Similar to Kaaya, Allison was a top-10 national QB recruit with prototypical size and throwing ability, and is a rhythm passer who, when protected, can pick apart a defense. He just hasn’t made the instant impact Kaaya did. To be fair, Miami planned to redshirt Allison this year, with the thought he would take over for Kaaya in 2017 or 2018. And he did show improvement this fall, according to coaches (he won a pair of scout-team player of the week awards). Allison finds himself facing a critical spring, since he didn’t exactly light it up last camp and the Hurricanes’ two incoming freshmen have impressive skills. If he doesn’t win the job, his future at UM is in question.
Will be a: true freshman (likely enrolling in May)
As arecruit: four-star from Ocala-Vanguard High No. 3 dual-threat quarterback (ESPN), No. 6 (247), No. 9 (Rivals)
Size: 6-foot-3, 175 pounds
Stats: (senior all-star game) 11-of-16 for 152 yards and a touchdown, 40 yards rushing in FACA North-South All-Star game; (junior year) 2,510 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions on 58 percent passing
Skills: athleticism, playmaking, running ability
Needs to improve: mechanics, accuracy
Breakdown: Perry has the highest ceiling of anyone in the six-man race. UM coaches privately compare his potential to that of Watson and Jackson, in the sense that he can make plays in or out of the pocket and pull rabbits out of his hat when things break down. And he is Richt’s hand-picked quarterback, along with fellow recruit Cade Weldon; the rest of the quarterbacks were brought in by Al Golden. However talented he may be, Perry is a raw prospect at this stage, with a lanky frame, long motion and a strong, but inconsistent arm. He is the caliber of athlete Miami hasn’t had at the position in some time, but how quickly can he be ready?
Will be a: true freshman (enrolling in January)
As a recruit: three-star from Tampa-Jefferson High, No. 18 pro-style QB (Rivals), No. 23 (ESPN), No. 37 (247)
Skills: ESPN called him a “heady pocket passer” who “plays with moxie” and is accurate all over the field. He also reportedly runs in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash.
Needs to improve: arm strength, overall strength, overall knowledge
Breakdown: The son of former Florida State and NFL quarterback Casey Weldon — who played for then-Seminoles quarterback coach Richt — Weldon has taken a backseat to Perry in the hype department. He is a talented recruit in his own right, with good bloodlines and plenty of ability. Oh, and confidence: He told Canesport he “absolutely” feels he can win the starting job. “Not saying anything bad about the other quarterbacks, but I think I have a strong chance to go and prove people wrong,” he said. He fell off the radar for many schools when he missed all but a few plays of his junior year with a torn ACL and MCL. He told 247Sports his confidence increased throwing downfield as a senior, and “felt pretty good about how I was running the ball” after improving his strength. “I was able to be more physical,” he said. It’s unclear if he’ll be a designed-run guy, but should be able to buy time in the pocket. Enrolling early will only help his case.
Will be a: redshirt junior
As a recruit: three-star from Mobile (Ala.) Faith Academy; No. 22 dual-threat QB (Rivals), No. 27 (247), No. 45 (ESPN)
Size: 6-foot-1, 215 pounds
Stats: (2015 and 2016 combined) 370 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions on 31-of-61 passing
Skills: arm strength, mobility
Needs to improve: accuracy
Breakdown: The only one on the roster with game experience, Rosier is best remembered for his only college start: a thrilling win at Duke on Oct. 31, 2015 in which he went 20-of-29 for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He piled up most of his career stats in that game. This past season, Kaaya’s two-year backup saw action in the final minutes of blowout wins over Florida A&M (19-yard rushing touchdown), Appalachian State (17-yard completion) and Duke (46-yard rush). Rosier, a talented athlete who played as a reserve on UM’s baseball team, tried to impress his new football coaches last spring. Richt said at the time Rosier had “a tendency to want to do something heroic. I keep telling him I don’t need a hero, I need someone to run the system. … Most great plays are just a normal play that they do at an extraordinary time.” Can he settle into a starting role, or is he a career backup?
Will be a: redshirt sophomore
As a recruit: three-star from Jefferson (Ga.) High; No. 61 pro-style QB (247), not rated (Rivals, ESPN)
Size: 6-foot-5, 210 pounds
Stats: (2016 spring game) 11 yards, interception on 1-of-5 passing; (senior year) more than 2,000 yards, with 39 touchdowns and four interceptions
Skills: footwork, smarts
Needs to improve: arm strength, mobility
Breakdown: None of the backups — Rosier included — impressed when seen live last spring, but Shirreffs drew praise from the coaching staff for his footwork and intelligence. According to UM staffers, he was the leader of the four backups for most of camp last August, but in UM’s final scrimmage, he fumbled several snap exchanges and forced several throws. A hand injury also contributed to him sliding behind the pack. He’s sharp — a high school valedictorian who scored a 32 on his ACT and had a 4.0 GPA — but wasn’t a full-time starter until his senior year. Georgetown, Old Dominion and Eastern Michigan were his only offers until Miami scooped him up a few days after signing day, 2015. He’s got some talent, but is he good enough to play at a high-major school? We’ll see.
Will be a: redshirt junior
As a recruit: not rated, out of Tampa-Jesuit High
Size: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Stats: (2016 spring game) 4 yards on 1-for-6 passing; (2014, true freshman at Texas Tech) 116 yards on 15-of-26 passing with an interception as backup vs. Texas; (senior year, high school) 1,015 yards, nine touchdowns on 90-of-167 passing
Skills: smarts, decision-making
Needstoimprove: overall skills
Breakdown: The son of UM legend Vinny Testaverde was a basketball player growing up, and started playing football in 2012 as a high school junior. His father’s connection with Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury — they spent time together on the New York Jets — scored him a walk-on spot with the Red Raiders, and he worked his way up the depth chart to the second string. After transferring as a walk-on to UM, he drew praise behind the scenes for “not burning the house down,” and making good decisions in closed practices last August. “Probably the least talented of the four,” one staffer said at the time of Testaverde. “He doesn’t make ‘wow’ plays but after you grade the film … you’re like, damn, kid played pretty good.” It’s hard to see a walk-on overtaking five scholarship players for the job, but he’ll get a shot.
Miami is looking for its next starting quarterback.
Brad Kaaya will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, the school announced Monday evening.
“This was one of the toughest decisions of my life,” Kaaya said in a statement released by the school. “However, I have zero worries that the ‘U’ will indeed be back. No matter who is under center next season, I have no doubt in my mind they will have the platform and the resources around them to bring a major championship back to Coral Gables. Miami will forever hold a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that I will always be a Miami Hurricane.”
Kaaya, who won the starting job as a true freshman in 2014, became the program’s all-time leader in (9,968), completions (720) and attempts (1,188) during his junior season. He is third in touchdowns (69) and completion percentage (60.6).
Based on his status as one of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks, Kaaya was widely expected to turn pro. Before his junior season, he was considered by analysts as a certain first-round pick, and some draftniks pegged him as a potential No. 1 overall selection. His stock seemed to slip during the year, as Miami lost four games in a row in October, but he finished strong.
In his final five games — all wins — Kaaya threw 14 touchdown passes and had just one interception. His final game was a 31-14 victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. He went 24-of-34 for 282 yards and four touchdown passes, tying a Miami bowl record for TD throws in a bowl. He was named the game’s most valuable player.
He finished 2016 with career bests in completions (261), attempts (387), yards (3,532) and touchdowns (27), his name ahead of such “Quarterback U” luminaries as Ken Dorsey, Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Gino Torretta, Steve Walsh and Vinny Testaverde in Miami’s record books.
The knock against him — as it has been for many Hurricanes quarterbacks in recent seasons — is that he didn’t beat rival Florida State or win a national championship. After what would be his final game, Kaaya, appearing as as loose and happy as ever after leading UM to its first bowl win in 10 years, was asked how he wanted to be remembered.
“Just a guy that, when things got tough … he didn’t quit on the U, and he didn’t let the U sink because it hasn’t been pretty the last three years,” Kaaya said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. We hadn’t beat Florida State. We hadn’t won the ACC Coastal. But just as a guy who was tough and didn’t quit, didn’t quit on his teammates, didn’t quit on his U, and just a person who tried to leave this jersey off better than how he found it, whether it’s this year or next year.”
Next fall, three redshirted backups – junior Malik Rosier, sophomore Evan Shirreffs and freshman Jack Allison – could be vying for the main job with two true freshmen, N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon. Rosier, who appeared in 10 games the last two seasons, is the only one with game experience.
“I think regardless of if I’m here or not next season, I think this team is headed to greatness,” Kaaya said after the Russell Athletic Bowl. “I think there’s a lot of good things going on, and a lot of progress has been made. So I think this team will be good regardless of what happens over the next few days.”
Coach Mark Richt said in a statement that Kaaya has “been a blessing to the program and I know he’s going to have a wonderful professional career. I want to wish him the very best.” Athletics Director Blake James said Kaaya, who was named 2014 ACC rookie of the year, “did a wonderful job of representing [UM] on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
Kaaya was tapped into UM’s “Iron Arrow” honor society earlier this year. It is the school’s highest honor, recognizing character, leadership, scholarship, humility and love for the school.
As for the NFL draft, held April 27-29 in Philadelphia, it’s unclear where Kaaya will place. One recent projection, by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, had him in the second round (No. 42 overall) to New Orleans. WalterFootball.com rated him as the sixth-best quarterback, and a third-to-fifth-round pick. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who watched UM in Orlando last Wednesday, said Kaaya should stay in school. “He can make all the throws,” Jeremiah wrote. “He just needs a little more time in college.”
The last Miami quarterback to be drafted was Dorsey, a seventh-rounder in 2003. The last to go above the seventh round was Craig Erickson, a fourth-round selection in 1992. Kaaya has a shot to be Miami’s highest-drafted quarterback since Walsh(first overall, 1989 supplemental draft) and Testaverde (first overall, 1987). Other draft-eligible quarterbacks in Kaaya’s class include Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and California’s Davis Webb.
In the statement announcing his departure, Kaaya said that while he is looking forward to “pursuing my future endeavors,” he will “miss our fans, media, students, administrators, coaches, families, and most importantly my teammates, who were with me through the good times and the tough times.”
Kaaya, a native of suburban Los Angeles, said Miami is his “long-term home,” and he plans to complete his UM degree in communications. “I also plan on giving back to this university and the South Florida community, two places that had such a positive impact on my life,” he said. “I look forward to watching coach Richt and his staff, and our team do even bigger and better things for years to come.”
Let’s leave Brad Kaaya aside for a moment and talk about what we know:
The Hurricanes’ front seven could be flat-out dominant in 2017.
Miami has an excellent a receiver-running back-tight end trio.
There will be room for young players and incoming true freshmen to shine.
The 9-4 Hurricanes of 2016 will return a lot on defense — and should have enough on offense, regardless of Kaaya’s decision — to be one of the best teams in the ACC. They’ll clearly have enough confidence, after playing some high-quality ball to end the year.
“As good as we want to be,” freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman said, when asked how good Miami could be next year. “As great as we want to be.”
We’ll break down individual units in the coming weeks, but let’s set the table first. Here’s an overview of how the Hurricanes are set up going forward:
Miami’s strength in 2017 will be defense, which (as of Dec. 30, with a few more bowl games to play) ranked eighth nationally in defensive yards per play, 12th in opponent yards per pass attempt, and 17th in yards per carry allowed. UM allowed the 13th-fewest points.
ESPN analyst Greg McElroy praised the unit heavily, saying it was a major reason why he feels the Hurricanes could be a top-10 team next year.
While that designation sounds premature, this was by far the best Miami defense since 2011, when it was top-20 in numerous categories, including No. 1 in tackles for loss (UM was No. 7 on Friday).
Up front, Miami will have preseason All-ACC candidates in 6-foot-6 ends Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson (combined: 12.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for losses) and athletic tackles Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh. All the key backups have eligibility remaining, though tackle Courtel Jenkins (who played the best game of his UM career in the bowl) has explored transferring. Miami brings in ESPN’s No.3-rated defensive end, D.J. Johnson, and immensely talented Lake Worth High product Jonathan Garvin.
“Next year, it’s going to be trouble,” Quarterman said of the defensive line.
With another year of experience, Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud should constitute one of the best linebacker units in the country. They combined for 182 tackles, 21 tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks, along with 14 quarterback hurries and five pass break-ups. They made mistakes, but grading on a 101 level, they earned straight-As.
“The standard is something that’s been set,” Quarterman said. “If we don’t meet the standard, then why did we come here? I talk to Jon Beason often, I talk to D.J. [Williams]. They have faith in us. They see that we’re building something here.”
The secondary will be a major area of focus in the coming months. Standout cornerback Corn Elder departs along with productive veterans Jamal Carter, Rayshawn Jenkins and Adrian Colbert. They’ll miss Elder’s lockdown coverage and athletic pass break-ups, and Carter and Jenkins should be commended for their improvement in tackling (they combined for 161, and cut down on the misses drastically). During his brief time at UM, Colbert made an impact — just ask West Virginia and Notre Dame.
Versatile sophomore Jaquan Johnson and incoming recruits Trajan Bandy and Amari Carter give Jamal Carter hope for the future.
“I’m just happy I could be a part of this team. To be coached by this coaching staff was a blessing for me,” he said. “It was due for us to be great, to go out and dominate. It’s going to [carry] over to next season. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a national championship next year.”
The chances of that, or an ACC title, in 2017 increase if Miami’s all-time leading passer returns. Kaaya, when protected and playing his best, could slice and dice defenses with pinpoint throws to all areas of the field. If he leaves, Miami fans should gear up for one heck of a quarterback battle.
“I think regardless of if I’m here or not next season, I think this team is headed to greatness,” Kaaya said. “I think there’s a lot of good things going on, and a lot of progress has been made. So I think this team will be good regardless of what happens over the next few days.”
Next fall, three redshirted backups – junior Malik Rosier, sophomore Evan Shirreffs and freshman Jack Allison – could be vying for the main job with two true freshmen, N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon.
Though Miami loses 1,542 yards and 17 touchdowns with the departure of tight end David Njoku and receiver Stacy Coley, freshman All-American receiver Ahmmon Richards and tight end Chris Herndon should acclimate to leading roles.
“He’s a freak athlete, just like myself,” Njoku said of Herndon (6-4, 253). “Probably even better.”
Miami also gets running back Mark Walton (1,357 total yards, 15 touchdowns) back for his junior year. Walton should be one of the ACC’s top backs.
The questions for Miami’s offense, aside from the quarterback: The offensive line and secondary receiving options, along with the unproven depth behind Walton. At receiver, Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager (coming off a torn ACL), Dayall Harris and Dionte Mullins will be looking for more targets. The offensive line needs an infusion of talent in recruiting and a large dose of health. Travis Homer will see increased time in the backfield, after shining on special teams as a true freshman.
The QB situation aside, Berrios is a believer entering his senior year.
“We won four, we lost four, and at that point in time everybody started looking at each other. Instead of laying down and packing it up for next season, we ended it with five wins,” he said. “There’s still room for improvement, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
The images of Mark Richt and his players after the Russell Athletic Bowl showed celebration, but certainly not complacency.
Richt and his players enjoyed the victory, the finish to a 9-4 season and Miami’s first bowl win in a decade, but the coach was far from satisfied.
“We didn’t get it done,” Richt said Wednesday night.
Its four-game October losing streak knocked Miami out of both the ACC championship chase and the polls — though given its win over No. 16 WVU, it will surely return in the final rankings. The October slide, because of where the Hurricanes landed, will help fuel players’ offseason training and coaches’ preparation.
Put another way: the Russell Athletic Bowl trophy won’t be displayed in the Schwartz Center lobby. But give credit to the Hurricanes for ending with five wins in a row. Miami hadn’t done that since its national championship year of 2001.
Miami of 2016, at its best, was not an all-timer, by any stretch. Inconsistent. Light on depth. Young. But at its best, a very good team, with a defense that wildly exceeded expectations, and an offense that, at its best, had enough balance and skill to beat quality opponents.
A fine start to Richt’s tenure.
“I wish we would have made an extra point early in the year,” he said, referencing the Oct. 8 loss to Florida State. “That would have been nice. Who knows how things might have changed then, but, you know, that’s part of life.”
That FSU game, a 20-19 loss that was sealed when defensive lineman Demarcus Walker blocked a point-after attempt with 1:38 left, will sting. As will a 20-13 loss to North Carolina, a 30-27 loss at Notre Dame and a 37-16 loss at Virginia Tech.
The Hurricanes ran out of gas in Blacksburg, playing their third game in 12 days without three defensive starters. But those other games could have twisted in myriad ways. To name a few examples, imagine if Miami’s line blocked. If the referee notices UNC’s Austin Proehl bobbling a touchdown pass out of bounds. If Jamal Carter falls on the fumble in South Bend.
The Hurricanes were perfect through four games, and that’s not enough. They can be proud of this one, but perfection is their goal.
“We fought hard,” Richt said. “We’ve got to learn to win the close ones. So that will be important.”
For Richt, the season truly began in December, when he took his first look at his new players practicing for the Sun Bowl.
“I just got to kind of watch, got to meet the guys little by little, and I knew I was going to fall in love with them,” he said. “You love them before you get to know them because that’s just part of your job, but once you get to know their personalities and everything — the relationships to me are very important.
“Strategy and competition kind of got me in the coaching business, but the relationships with these guys is really the most important thing to me now, other than watching them jump in the locker room and win games and championships. I love that too, believe me, but I think it’s — I don’t know. I would call it more of a mission for me than a job.”
He wants his staff to relax with their families and toast to the New Year. Soon after, their mission continues.
The news: Richt said he believes Brad Kaaya is uncertain about his future. Many within the program expect Kaaya will turn pro, but Richt he doesn’t know what his junior quarterback will do.
“I do think he’s torn,” Richt said. “Everybody wants to play in the NFL. I think the thought of the draft not being super-heavy with QBs is on his mind. I think he also knows he can improve as a player and become more prepared for the moment when you get there. When you get there, you’d better be ready.
“I do think it’s a tough call for him. … I don’t think it’s done in his mind right now.”
Richt’s coaching helped Kaaya rebound from a shaky start in UM’s 31-14 win over No. 16 West Virginia. Richt said he told his quarterback, “‘Just rip the ball, son. Don’t be cautious. Don’t be worried about making a mistake. … We believe in you.’ Let’s put it on the money, because he’s as good as anybody at doing that.”
Kaaya closed 19-of-21 with four touchdowns.
Richt also said he can’t see tight end David Njoku lasting beyond the second round of the draft, and said Njoku has the potential to be one of the best in the league. Njoku, a redshirt sophomore, declared for the draft after the game.
“When people start testing these guys,” Richt said, “I think they’ll see his potential to be as good as anybody in that league, which is hard to say because that league is full of freaky athletes.”
Richt spoke highly of his program, agreeing with Rose when the host suggested Miami’s five-game winning streak to end the year is “good for business” in recruiting, fundraising and all other areas.
“Right now, people are believing,” Richt said. “That’s important, because it just creates energy when people start believing.”
Richt is a big believer in his freshman-and-sophomore-laden defense, which held West Virginia’s powerful offense to season lows in total yards (229) and yards per play (3.52),
“You feel so good about the future of that bunch,” he said. “We know we’ve got to replace some awesome seniors” at cornerback and safety, “and that’ll be a challenge, but I know we’ve got some guys on campus and some guys coming in that are going to step up.
“We’ve got a chance to be pretty darn good next year as well.”
ORLANDO — David Njoku is the latest Hurricanes tight end headed to the NFL.
Njoku, a redshirt sophomore, told reporters after Miami’s 31-14 win in the Russell Athletic Bowl over No. 16 West Virginia that he will forgo his final two seasons of college eligibility and enter the draft.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, leaving my team a couple years early, but I feel like it’s what’s best for me and my family,” he said, adding that coach Mark Richt “wished me the best.”
Though junior quarterback Brad Kaaya said he still has some “soul-searching to do” and will decide his future in the coming days, Miami (9-4) returns a loaded defense and several major pieces on offense. That, he said, made his decision hard.
However, Njoku said his coaches told him he had the potential to be drafted in the first two rounds. He would join Greg Olsen (Carolina), Jimmy Graham (Seattle), Clive Walford (Oakland) and Erik Swoope (Indianapolis) as former Miami tight ends in the league.
“Nothing’s going to happen unless I work,” he said. “I’ve got to get working.”
A 6-foot-4, 245-pound former high school national champion high-jumper, he caught 43 passes for 608 yards and eight touchdowns in his final season.
In his last game at UM, he caught five passes for 44 yards and a touchdown, which made it 28-7 early in the third quarter. He said he “was thinking about it a lot” going into his final game and made his decision beforehand.
“This was about myself and my family,” he said. “I think [my teammates] understand.”
ORLANDO — The Hurricanes fans who stayed long, about 3,000 of them, chanted “one more year” at Brad Kaaya as he accepted the MVP trophy of the Russell Athletic Bowl.
But Kaaya will not announce a decision regarding his future — whether he will stay at Miami for his senior season or leave for the NFL draft — for a few days.
Kaaya, the junior quarterback who now stands as Miami’s career leader in yards (9,968), completions (720) and attempts (1,188), said he still has some “soul-searching to do” and will decide his future in the coming days.
”I’m not really leaning a certain way right now,” said Kaaya, who is also third at UM in touchdowns (69).
He plans to talk to a list of confidants that include his coaches, current teammates, former teammates, mentors and family. He said UM is “headed to greatness” with or without him, but added that “it’s every kid’s dream” to chase — and win — a national title.
Miami (9-4) returns a loaded defense and several major pieces on offense. It will not return tight end David Njoku, who declared after the game.
Wearing a backwards cap and a t-shirt that commemorated Miami’s 34-14 win over West Virginia, Kaaya looked as happy and as confident as he ever publicly had. He said the win “meant a lot to me and my teammates. … There are some really good players who came through here and haven’t won a bowl game.”
The win was Miami’s first bowl victory in 10 seasons. And Kaaya earned all but a few MVP votes after finishing 24-of-34 for 282 yards. He threw four touchdown passes and tied a UM bowl record in that category (Craig Erickson, 1991).
He started just 5-of-13 but closed hot, completing 19 of his final 21. “Just let it rip,” coach Mark Richt told him after his poor start.
That’s something like his season, which saw him become Miami’s career leader in passing yards with a prolific November. He became the school’s leader in attempts and completions during the bowl.