In his second season as the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, Mark Richt has some believing this may actually be the time Miami turns a corner and fulfills the expectations place don the program when they joined the ACC from the Big East. Despite a few flashes in the pan with good starts to a season here and there, Miami has long struggled to be the football power the ACC thought it was adding, but could 2017 be different? Former Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya seems to think so.
In Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, Kaaya says he has no regrets over making his decision to turn pro with a year of eligibility remaining at Miami, even though he feels he could have been a part of something truly special with the Miami Hurricanes had he stuck around fo the 2017 campaign. How special? How about College Football Playoff contention?
“I thought of both scenarios, but at the end of the day it was an opportunity that I’ve wanted since I was six years old — to play in the National Football League,” Kaaya said in a story by former college football reporter Joe Schad, who currently covers the Miami Dolphins for Palm Beach Post. “And while I think I could have won a national championship and a conference championship had I stayed at Miami, it’s always been a dream of mine to play in the Super Bowl — and play in an NFC Championship or AFC Championship.”
The thought of Miami winning a national championship may be a bit of a reach influenced by close ties to a program, so you can excuse Kaaya for thinking so highly of the once-mighty Miami program. But he does have faith Richt could be on the verge of getting Miami to stay on the right track.
“I think they’ll be in good hands,” Kaaya said. “Coach Richt will have them back on the right page pretty soon. I think next season they’ll be a playoff contender, no doubt.”
Miami went 9-4 in Richt’s first season with the program, complete with the first bowl victory by the program since winning the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl under Larry Coker. Since that 2006 season, Miami has had four different head coaches (including two interim coaches) before landing Richt and has finished in the AP top 25 just twice. The last time Miami hit double digits in the win column was in the 2003 season, Miami’s curtain call in the Big East that ended with a No. 5 ranking and an Orange Bowl victory. The program has since had to crawl through NCAA issues and has not been able to keep pace with ACC powers Florida State and Clemson and has yet to win one ACC Coastal Division championship.
But hey, maybe this is the year the “Is Miami back” question will be able to be answered affirmatively for more than a month.
WHO: No. 16 West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)
WHAT: The 27th Russell Athletic Bowl
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
THE SKINNY: It may be difficult to comprehend the idea of the Miami Hurricanes have gone a decade without celebrating a postseason bowl victory, but that is the monkey on the shoulders of the once-proud Hurricanes today. New head coach Mark Richt can start to turn the program around and bring his first campaign as the head coach to a happy ending that has long since been missing heading into the offseason.
Richt can have faith in his defense and quarterback Brad Kaaya to some degree, although Kaaya has far from perfect on the biggest of stages Miami has taken during his tenure. Could that change in the bowl game this year
Miami will be reunited with former Big East rival West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The two programs have not faced each other since 2003, before Miami left the Big East for the ACC. The Mountaineers are coming off their most successful season since moving into the Big 12 (also abandoning the Big East in the process) and is looking to put together the most wins in a single season under head coach Dana Holgorsen and the most wins since 2007.
West Virginia has been playing some of the best defense found in the Big 12, where defense often tends to be optional, but the Mountaineers are also ranked 80th in the nation in total defense. Regardless, the school gave a three-year contract extension to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who will be tasked with scheming against Brad Kaaya. On offense, West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard is coming off a season with 3,194 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, and Howard had a massive bowl game a year ago. If West Virginia can keep in sync on offense and cause Kaaya to make some mistakes, then West Virginia could gain an advantage unless Miami suddenly resurrects its running game.
THE PREDICTION: West Virginia 27, Miami 24
Nothing has gone according to plan for Notre Dame (3-5) this season, but they managed to find themselves celebrating a win despite blowing a 20-0 lead at home on Saturday. Notre Dame saw a 20-0 lead turn into a 27-20 deficit against Miami (4-4, 1-3 ACC) in the fourth quarter, but the Irish responded with a 10-point run to come away with a much-needed win in Notre Dame Stadium. The game was clinched with a sack of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Notre Dame started off as well as anyone could have expected, leading the Hurricanes 17-0 after one quarter of play and 20-0 just minutes into the second quarter. Notre Dame was suffocating Miami in the first half, but Kaaya and the Hurricanes would roar back with 20 straight points in the second half to take a 27-20 lead. That put the Irish in a tough spot, but they somehow managed to climb out of it.
It took Notre Dame just four plays to tie the game at 27-27 thanks to a big gain through the air from DeShone Kizer and a 41-yard touchdown run by Josh Adams. Having re-energized Notre Dame Stadium with the tying score, Notre Dame’s defense then came through with their best effort of the half, a three-and-out, which would help lead to an eventual game-winning field goal from short distance. Miami had a chance with the ball and just 30 seconds to play, but with no timeouts, there was nothing that could be done on a sack by Nyles Morgan to end the ball game at the Miami 41-yard line.
Notre Dame did get a little banged up in the game as well. Linebacker Greer Martini suffered a concussion in the first quarter, and defensive tackle Daniel Cage was also being evaluated for a head injury.
The Irish now keep their slim bowl hopes alive with the win, but still face an uphill. At 3-5, Notre Dame must win three of its final four games. Next week Notre Dame plays Navy in Jacksonville, followed by Army in San Antonio. The Irish then close out the season at home against Virginia Tech and on the road at USC. Nothing is impossible, but even games against the service academies may not be the automatic wins Notre Dame is accustomed to having.
Miami returns home next week to play Pittsburgh in ACC play.
DeShone Kizer has thrown two touchdowns in the first half to help give Notre Dame a 20-7 advantage on visiting Miami. The defense of the Irish has played one of the best halves of the season against Brad Kaaya and the Hurricanes, holding Miami to just three rushing yards.
Notre Dame started off as well as they could have dreamed, with a touchdown drive to open the game for an early lead. Kizer connected with Torii Hunter Jr. from the five-yard line for the score. Miami’s offense then lost eight yards on a three-and-out on their first drive, setting Notre Dame up with a great chance to do some more early damage. Notre Dame was held to a field goal, but the defense then picked off Kaaya on Miami’s third down on the ensuing possession. This time, Notre Dame cashed in with a touchdown with Kaaya finding Equanimeous St. Brown from 14 yards out.
Miami did catch one break in the first half on special teams by recovering a fumble by Hunter Jr. that led to a Miami touchdown a few plays later (Kaaya completing a pass to David Njoku for the score). But that has been just about all Miami has managed to do against Notre Dame so far. Miami has been flagged six times for 55 yards too.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya took a bruising (and lost a tooth) on Saturday night in a loss to Florida State, but he is gearing up to lead the Hurricanes this week with North Carolina on deck.
Kaaya injured his shoulder in the loss against the Seminoles, although the specific details of the injury have not been shared by head coach Mark Richt. As a precaution, Miami kept Kaaya from throwing in the early going of the week. He returned to practice Tuesday morning.
”He zipped the ball well,” Richt said. ”I really don’t think there was an issue. He practiced the whole way.”
That’s comforting news for Miami fans, even if the shoulder remains a concern for the Hurricanes. Despite the loss over the weekend, Miami still has plenty to play for in the coming weeks with the ACC Coastal Division still an attainable goal. Miami plays North Carolina at home this week, where a win keeps a division title still in sight with a short week to prepare for a road trip to Virginia Tech Thursday night of next week.