Behind Kaaya’s strong performance, Hurricanes improve to 3-0 after 45-10 win over Appalachian State

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Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) hands off the ball during Saturday's game against Appalachian State. The Canes won the away game, 45-10. Dallas Linger, The Appalachian

Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) hands off the ball during Saturday’s game against Appalachian State. The Canes won the away game, 45-10. Dallas Linger, The Appalachian

The Hurricanes knew that their first road game would be a test – they passed it with flying colors. No. 25-ranked Miami demolished the Appalachian State Mountaineers 45-10 in front of a record crowd turnout in Boone, North Carolina.

“We came in very well-prepared and played with the type of edge that you need to have to play against an outstanding team such as Appalachian State,” Head Coach Mark Richt said. “I think our guys had the right motivation and attitude.”

Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya was masterful, displaying laser-like accuracy all game long. He completed 21 of his 27 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns to just one interception. All three touchdown throws came on third down, where he was a highly efficient 8 of 9 passing for 167 yards.

“There is a lot of weight on his shoulders,” Richt said of Kaaya. “It was nice to see him play a really solid game.”

The Canes’ offense proved to be too much for the Mountaineers, racking up 549 total yards to Appalachian State’s 241. Sophomore running back Mark Walton did his part once again, rushing for 130 yards and two scores on just 16 carries. A big chunk of that yardage came on the first offensive play of the day for Miami, in which Walton exploded out of the backfield, broke a tackle and bolted for an 80-yard touchdown run.

“The o-line did a great job; they made the hole,” Walton said. “I bounced off the tackle, saw green grass and just took it.”

Appalachian State’s defensive backs could not keep up with Miami’s receivers. Senior Stacy Coley and freshman Ahmmon Richards lit up the opposing secondary. Coley caught five balls for 85 yards and two touchdowns, while Richards caught four balls for 142 yards, including 62 and 61-yard receptions. Junior tight end David Njoku was effective, reeling in three catches for 69 yards and a score.

“I told myself I’m not dropping another ball,” Richards said. “I’m just glad Brad trusts me to throw me those balls.”

The Hurricanes’ defense was tremendous, continuing to give the opposing quarterback fits, as it has been doing since the season started. Mountaineers’ quarterback Taylor Lamb was feeling pressure throughout the game, resulting in only 115 yards passing and 48 percent of throws completed. The Canes’ defense had a whopping 12 tackles for loss, to go along with three sacks and an interception. Junior defensive lineman Chad Thomas led the way, recording 9 total tackles, three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Senior defensive back Corn Elder was all over the field, adding seven total tackles of his own, along with a sack, tackle for loss, pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.

“As a team, we responded well and just played hard,” Thomas said. “I was telling the DBs [defensive backs], go at it like the score is 0-0.”

Miami couldn’t have started the game much better. The team forced early stops on defense and converted them into three straight scores on the offense’ first three possessions. The first was the Walton run, then it was the precision red-zone pass from Kaaya to Njoku, and the first quarter was closed out by a bomb from Kaaya to a wide open Coley that led to a 55-yard touchdown.

“A lot of the success was [from]the guys just breaking tackles out there,” Richt said.

Late in the second quarter, the Mountaineers sustained their best drive to that point in the game, getting the ball all the way to the Canes’ one-yard line. Miami showed their grit by stuffing Appalachian State at the line multiple times and forcing them to settle for a field goal.

The Hurricanes had a slow start to the second half, allowing a Mountaineers touchdown after Kaaya threw a red-zone interception early in the third quarter. Coach Richt’s squad quickly regained their poise, scoring on the very next possession on a drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown rush by junior running back Joe Yearby at the 6:50 mark of the third period. It was at that point that the momentum was once again in Miami’s favor, and the team rode it to victory.

“It got a little sloppy there for a minute,” Richt said. “Thankfully we came back and scored again to get the cushion.”

An interesting moment in the game was early in the second quarter, when Appalachian State chose to go for it on fourth-and-one on their own 45-yard line with the team down 21-0. The Mountaineers did not convert.

Miami suffered a scare in the third quarter. After getting intercepted, Kaaya tweaked his left knee in a non-contact manner while attempting to stop the Appalachian State defense from scoring off the turnover. He came back into the game with a slight limp, but was able to still throw effectively. There is swelling, but doctors are saying that there is no ligament damage. Kaaya said after the game that he should be fine, just needs to rest the knee and ice it.

“As far as I know, he is okay,” Richt said.

Kaaya now has 49 career touchdown passes, which ties him for third place in UM history with former quarterback Stephen Morris. Walton has rushed for 100-plus yards in each of his first three games. The 80-yard run was also the longest of his career.

The 34,658 fans in attendance at the game is a Kidd Brewer Stadium record.

“This is what you come to college football for, to play in stadiums like this,” Elder said of the atmosphere.

The Hurricanes have a chance to rest up with the upcoming bye week, but will visit Georgia Tech on Sunday, Oct. 1 in Bobby Dodd Stadium. The time for the game is yet to be decided.

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