Hurricanes face tough environment Thursday night against Cincinnati

Former players celebrate during last season's game against Cincinnati, which the Canes won 55-34. File Photo
Former players celebrate during last season’s game against Cincinnati, which the Canes won 55-34. File Photo

Just under a year ago, the struggling Miami Hurricanes took on the Cincinnati Bearcats in a not-so-crowded Sun Life Stadium and delivered a 55-34 blowout. While the circumstances are quite different entering Thursday night’s game, the Canes hope to recreate a similar result.

Head Coach Al Golden will bring his team into Nippert Stadium with confidence riding high following a 3-0 start to the season, unlike last year’s matchup when the Canes entered with a .500 winning percentage. During the bye week, the team was able to celebrate their game-winning kick that beat Nebraska and recover from injuries.

One key member returning is sophomore receiver Braxton Berrios, who had missed the past two games following a knee injury. In a hostile environment, sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya will be glad to have one of his go-to receivers back on the field.

“He looks good; it doesn’t look like he got injured at all,” Kaaya said when asked about Berrios. “With him, he’s an easy guy to throw to. It shouldn’t be an issue. All the routes that he’s run so far, we’ve connected on pretty well.”

Despite the sophomore receiver’s absence, the Hurricanes have had no trouble putting points on the board. Miami has averaged 41.7 points through three games, tied for 16th best in the nation with Tulsa.

While Cincinnati comes into the matchup at 2-2, the Bearcats have not had much trouble scoring either. Cincinnati has averaged 40.3 points in four games this season, but will be missing junior quarterback Gunner Kiel, a crucial member of the Bearcats’ offense.

The former top recruit took a nasty hit last Thursday against Memphis that left him motionless on the ground as doctors attended to him. Kiel was not cleared to return to the game and was replaced by freshman quarterback Hayden Moore.

Despite Moore being a backup, he threw for a school-record 557 yards and four touchdowns in Cincinnati’s 53-46 loss to Memphis. The freshman will also not have to fend off Hurricane safeties senior Deon Bush and junior Jamal Carter, who were both ejected for targeting versus Nebraska and will miss the first half against the Bearcats.

While the Hurricanes’ defense may be a concern without two top safeties, both sides of the ball for Miami will face a whole different type of challenge Thursday night. For the first time this season, they’re leaving the state of Florida and facing an entirely hostile crowd.

“They’re going to feel the energy, and they know the challenge, they know the environment,” Golden said of playing in primetime at Nippert Stadium. “I’m trying to create a consistent team – a team that, wherever they are, they stay together, they communicate really well and they eliminate the bad ball. That’s going to be a challenge there.”

The Canes hopefully can lean on the performance they gave last year against Cincinnati to combat that challenge. If they don’t, the team could drop a winnable game right before entering a tough stretch in their schedule.