This football season had plenty of ups and downs for the Hurricanes. Despite suffering two miserable losses – including the worst in program history – and pulling off one of the most dramatic wins ever, the team sits at a modest 8-4 overall and third in the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-3 record in conference games. Before bowl season begins, let’s look back on what Miami did well – and not so well – this year.
Offensively, sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya and his surrounding weapons had a good season. Specifically, Kaaya continued to develop into a solid game manager and the surefire leader of the team. He led the ACC with 274.5 passing yards per game and threw 15 touchdowns versus just four interceptions in 11 starts.
Sophomore running back Joseph Yearby and freshman standout Mark Walton were a dynamic duo for the Hurricanes, scoring a combined 14 touchdowns this season. The receiving corps was perhaps the brightest spot on offense. Junior Stacy Coley, redshirt senior Rashawn Scott and senior Herb Waters were steady, dependable targets for Kaaya all season long. The trio led a balanced passing attack with each of them nabbing at least 38 catches and netting 600-plus receiving yards. The emergence of redshirt freshman tight end David Njoku as this season went on was a pleasant surprise.
On defense, Miami had one of the deadliest secondaries in the nation. Led by junior cornerback Artie Burns with his ACC-high six interceptions, the group picked off opposing quarterbacks 15 times. This, along with nine fumble recoveries, helped Miami attain the best turnover margin in the ACC at plus-13.
Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad came on strong as the season progressed, leading the team in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (8.5). Sophomore Juwon Young stepped in for injured senior linebacker Raphael Kirby and put up 29 solo tackles in 10 games while junior linebacker Jermaine Grace led the team with 42.
On special teams, sophomore kicker Michael Badgley had a historic season. “Jersey Mike” set program records in makes (25) and attempts (30), and tied the school record for the longest field goal with his 57-yarder against Georgia Tech. Junior Corn Elder was a dangerous punt return man, averaging 13.82 yards per return to go with one touchdown. Of course, he, along with a few others, brought back the game-winning kickoff return to the end zone against Duke.
At the end of the season, six Hurricanes were named to All-ACC teams. Burns’ stellar play was rewarded with a second-team selection; Kaaya and Coley both made the third team and three players earned honorable mentions: Badgley, Yearby and Deon Bush.
The offensive line was abysmal at times for the Hurricanes. During Miami’s 1-3 stretch in October, it seemed like Kaaya was on the ground after every throw. The low point came against Clemson when the Tigers rushed two defensive ends and still sacked Kaaya, knocking him out of the game with a concussion in the process. The run blocking wasn’t much better, as Miami couldn’t generate much of a push up front. As a result, most of Miami’s rushing yards came from stretch plays or runs to the outside.
Miami’s defensive line picked up toward the end of the season, but in games against Nebraska, Cincinnati and Florida State, the opposing quarterbacks seemed to have an eternity to throw the ball. The defense as a whole had trouble finishing games, as well. Miami nearly squandered double-digit fourth quarter leads to Nebraska, Duke and Pittsburgh.
On special teams, Miami had four kickoffs travel out of bounds for penalties. That was tied for worst in the ACC and is inexcusable. Speaking of penalties, Miami nearly broke the 1000-yard mark, racking up 989 yards in penalties over 12 games. Miami averaged 82.4 penalty yards a game, most out of all the 128 teams in the country.
Another regular season is in the books for the Hurricanes, and now the group patiently awaits its bowl game selection. Miami will likely find out which bowl game they’re headed to on Sunday.