Commentary, Football, Sports

Richt’s first season offers positive signs moving forward

Junior tight end David Njoku (86) scores a touchdown during the third quarter of the football game against Duke at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday evening. The Canes finished their last home game 40-21. Hallee Meltzer // Photo Editor

Junior tight end David Njoku (86) scores a touchdown during the third quarter of the football game against Duke at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday evening. The Canes finished their last home game 40-21. Hallee Meltzer // Photo Editor

It’s that time of year: evaluation time. Miami football has just capped off its regular season with a record of 8-4, sandwiching a four-game losing streak between two four-game win streaks. As the team awaits its bowl game announcement, the question arises: Was this season a success or a failure?

Despite the team’s obvious inconsistency, to use either of those words to describe the Hurricanes season would be unfair. Considering all the changes that have been made to the program in the past year, it was a given from the start that Head Coach Mark Richt’s first coaching campaign with Miami was going to be one to feel things out and see where the football team stands as it begins to bring the U back to national prominence.

“Hopefully we just keep getting better,” Richt said. “There’s no reason to believe that we can’t become one of the teams that every year is going to be fighting to get into that championship game.”

That’s what fans want: confidence. They want to hear the utmost belief that this season was only the beginning to what will be years of prosperity for the program. In order to make that a reality, the coaching staff and team must analyze what went well this season and build on it.

Possibly the biggest highlight of the season was how well the defense played in response to adversity. Due to dismissals of key players and injuries, the team was forced to start more freshmen than it would have liked, including a trio of freshman starting linebackers. They were up to the challenge and performed beyond their years, helping Miami boast the fifth-best total defense in the ACC and the second-best scoring defense in the conference.

“I feel like every week, we have challenged them to play like Hurricanes – to run to the ball, play fast and tackle well when we got there,” Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Twelve games in, we have done that all 12 games.”

Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya was on just about every watch list for top quarterback awards prior to the season. Though he suffered some struggles midseason, Kaaya fought through them and finished the year throwing for the most yards of his career, posting his best passer rating, and surpassing former UM-great Ken Dorsey for first all-time in yards thrown in Hurricanes football history.

“Just look at all the quarterbacks who come here … it’s just a huge honor,” Kaaya said after the game against Duke. “It just feels great. But all credit to the guys who have made plays for me the past three years.”

Kaaya had some weapons on offense who rose to stardom this year. Sophomore running back Mark Walton was given the nod to be the starter at the beginning of the season. He flourished in the position, rushing for 1,065 yards (No. 4 in the ACC) and 14 touchdowns. Junior tight end David Njoku came into his own and had a breakout year, catching 38 balls for 654 yards and seven scores. Freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards showed he is a quick learner, breaking the record for the most receiving yards ever by a first-year UM wideout with 866.

“Coach Richt and Coach [Todd] Hartley, for the tight end group, just said, ‘Stick together. Focus on every play. Don’t give up,’” Njoku said. “I guess we did that, so we’re happy about that.”

There were positives in Coach Richt’s first year, now UM must build on them in years to come. One thing is for certain, a record of 8-4 won’t cut it two to three years down the road. Expectations will be high.

“For me, and I guess every coach would say this, I don’t think our best game has been played yet,” Diaz said.

November 30, 2016

Reporters

Isaiah Kim-Martinez

Isaiah Kim-Martinez can be reached on Twitter at @isaiah_km.


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

They’ve earned their first 10-win season since 2003. Now all they need are two more victories for a ...

It became very clear, as soon as University of Miami coaches began recruiting Lonnie Walker IV, that ...

A six-pack of UM football notes: ▪ After UM’s 44-28 victory against Virginia on Saturday, Cavaliers ...

The Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, featuring the Coastal Division champion Miami Hurri ...

As Miami fans await the newest College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night — the Hurricanes c ...

The 41st annual conference on the Caribbean and Central America held a special program at the Univer ...

The Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation gift will establish the Business Plan Competition Endowed Fund. ...

C. David Naylor, a UM Presidential Scholar and public health policy expert, provided insight into he ...

A cohort of five religious leaders from Miami, including a rabbi and imam from the University of Mia ...

Hollywood actress and star of the hit BET series Being Mary Jane gets real about gender, race and co ...

The Hurricanes jumped o to No. 2 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, e ...

Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was selected as one of 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award ...

Former Miami football players Ronnie Walker and Todd Stanish are grateful to be able to celebrate an ...

Erykah Davenport scored 16 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds, as the Miami women's b ...

The neutral-site game is a homecoming for freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV. ...

TMH Twitter Feed
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.