Head Coach Mark Richt’s first season at the University of Miami ended with a bang on Wednesday night. The 10-year drought is over. The Hurricanes showed resilience to take home their first bowl win since 2006 with a 31-14 victory over the No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya bounced back from a rough start to the game to throw for 282 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Canes to the win.
Miami struggled immensely on offense for the majority of the first half, and for a moment, it seemed that the team was going to have one of those games where scoring was hard to come by. Kaaya was missing throws high, the running game could do little to nothing and the team was 0-6 on third down. The Canes did not pick up a first down until the 11:04 mark of the second quarter off a pass interference call against Mountaineers’ defensive back Toyous Avery.
Then, Ahmmon Richards changed the face of the entire ball game.
At the 6:44 point of the second period, the freshman receiver caught an eight-yard pass off a simple hitch-route. He turned it into so much more. Richards took advantage of his speed and terrific down field blocking to score on a 51-yard catch-and-run to give Miami its first points of the contest. The score would ignite the team and give it all the momentum it needed to take control of the game.
The Miami defense shut down West Virginia’s offense on the very next possession, forcing a three-and-out. Kaaya began to hit his receivers in stride, leading the offense to back-to-back scores. The first was a three-yard pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Malcolm Lewis, and the second was a pinpoint 26-yard throw to a wide open Braxton Berrios in the end zone to give the team a 21-7 advantage to close the first half.
The Hurricanes would not look back.
Kaaya continued to make good reads and helped Miami to protect its lead in the second half. The Canes found their largest lead of the game on a play where Kaaya found junior tight end David Njoku for a 23-yard touchdown in which Njoku broke a tackle and then leaped into the end zone to make the score 28-7 with 11:04 left in the third quarter. The touchdown was part of an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
The Canes defense kept the Mountaineers offense at bay, racking up nine tackles for loss and four sacks, as well as holding West Virginia’s well-known rushing attack to just 95 yards. Miami forced two turnover-on-downs in the second half, including a great play defensed by senior defensive back Corn Elder with 10:23 left to go in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
West Virginia struck first in the contest, taking advantage of Miami penalties and missed tackles to go on a four-play, 39-yard drive that culminated in a Kennedy McKoy touchdown rush. The scoring drive took just 1:02 off the clock in the first period. However, the offense lost its rhythm after that point, only scoring once more the rest of the way, and committed 11 penalties for 108 yards.
Elder and freshman linebacker Shaquille Quarterman lead the UM defense. Elder finished with seven total tackles and Quarterman tallied five total tackles, one tackle for loss and a sack.
Richards led the receiving core with 68 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Miami football looks to take the momentum of closing the season with five-straight wins into next season as the Era of Richt continues.