It was the Mark Walton show last night in Hard Rock Stadium, as the Miami Hurricanes football team took care of business and improved to 2-0 on the season with a 38-10 victory over the Florida Atlantic University Owls Saturday evening.
The sophomore running back dominated the game for the Canes. After a slow start for the team that included being scoreless for the first quarter and a half of the match, it was Walton who took matters into his own hands. He broke the ice by getting Miami’s first score with a seven-yard touchdown rush at the 7:53 mark of the second period. Things only got better from there, as Walton finished the game rushing 17 times for 155 yards and a whopping four touchdowns, responsible for 28 of the Canes’ 38 points. Walton became the first Miami running back to rush for four touchdowns in a game since 2005.
“I’m trusting my o-line; they did a great job tonight,” Walton said after the game. “Believing in them, trusting them, trusting my reads, hitting my holes well and just running.”
Walton has a point. The offensive line played well all night long, allowing the running game to rack up 279 rushing yards. FAU only had 47, thus that was the clear difference in the game. Junior running back Joe Yearby had a big part in that run game as well, rushing for 121 yards himself and a score.
“The way we are running the ball is extremely awesome,” Yearby said of Walton and himself. “We compliment each other every time we make good runs.”
The running game was even more vital than usual Saturday night due to an off game by starting junior quarterback Brad Kaaya. Kaaya completed 17 of his 31 passes, but only threw for 191 yards and had no touchdown passes to two interceptions. Looking at the positives, Kaaya did manage the game much better in the second half, allowing the running backs to takeover the contest.
“They came out with some looks that I hadn’t seen on film,” Kaaya said of his first half struggles. “We threw some bubbles out, spread those guys out and just diced them up with our running backs.”
Miami’s defense played exceptionally strong throughout the game, not allowing the Owls to form any type of rhythm on offense. Leading the way was freshman linebacker Michael Pinckney, who racked up nine total tackles, 1.5 of them for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Redshirt senior defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins did his part as well with five total tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception. The defense as a whole had an impressive seven sacks on the game.
“It’s really good to see that we’ve made big improvements on defense,” Jenkins said. “I feel like our seniors are playing like seniors, and our captains are playing like captains. We’re getting those younger guys to step up, especially those young linebackers.”
For Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, stopping FAU’s run game first and foremost was the game plan.
“It’s who we are, the first tenant of our defense is stop the run, in college football, in any football, it has never changed in the history of the game,” Diaz said. “For the first two games our run defense has been outstanding.”
FAU started off strong on the game’s first drive, but stalled after multiple penalties on the offensive line. A blocked punt then gave the Canes both good field position and momentum early in the contest. However, they couldn’t capitalize as FAU blocked a kick of their own on Michael Badgley’s 26-yard field goal attempt. A defensive struggle ensued for the rest of the first quarter, as neither offense managed to cross the 50-yard line and the quarter ended in a 0-0 tie.
Miami finally drew first blood halfway through the second quarter on the touchdown run by Walton. FAU was then able to take advantage of Brad Kaaya’s second interception of the night, as Greg Joseph converted his first field goal attempt of the game to get the Owls on the scoreboard. Miami relied on the running game the rest of the first half and sustained a long touchdown drive to increase their lead. Walton carried the team down the field and ran in from three yards out for his second score of the night, extending the Hurricanes’ lead to 14-3 at the end of the half.
The Canes came out in the second half and went right back to what was working. They continued to feed Walton the ball and he immediately led Miami down the field on a 12-play scoring drive that took five minutes off the clock and ended in a Badgley field goal. The defense remained stout for the second week in a row and provided the offense with great field position to work with throughout the rest of the second half. Walton scored a third touchdown for the second straight week, and it was definitely one to remember. At the 6:43 point of the third quarter, the sophomore running back was able to dodge multiple defenders, including a spin off one, and ultimately power through another to get into the end zone for one of the more impressive runs in college football so far this season. That put the Canes ahead by 21 near the end of the period, and Miami continued to run the ball strong in the last quarter of play to cruise to a win.
“I think, overall, it was a good, solid victory – no doubt about that,” Head Coach Mark Richt said. “It was good to finish the game the way we did.”
No Miami team has scored more points in its first two games of the season than the 2016 Hurricanes. It might not have been as impressive as the blowout of FAMU a week ago, but the Canes got the job done while continuing to grow and improve under the new coaching staff. However, they’ll need to clean things up and have a sharp week of practice before they head to Boone, N.C., to play a tough Appalachian State team next weekend.
The Canes will look to continue their undefeated season with a win against the Mountaineers on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Kidd Brewer Stadium.