Hurricanes football started the season off right, giving Head Coach Mark Richt his first victory with the program in a blowout 70-3 win against the Florida A&M Rattlers.
“Just very thankful for the victory,” Richt said. “I thought our guys showed up with the right frame of mind and played very well early on.”
Miami was able to turn huge defensive plays into scoring opportunities throughout the game, which gave the team an early lead that it would not concede.
Senior defensive back Corn Elder intercepted a pass thrown by FAMU quarterback Kenneth Coleman within the first two minutes of the contest. Freshman defensive end Pat Bethel blocked a punt to give the Canes great field position later in the first quarter. Both defensive plays led to instant offense for the Canes: a touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brad Kaaya to redshirt senior fullback Marquez Williams and a one-yard touchdown rush from junior running back Joe Yearby with 6:03 left in the first period.
“I thought it was important that we start the game and set the tempo early on,” Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz said. “To have a senior like Corn Elder make an interception on the first drive is what you want your older guys to do, and I think the other guys fed on that.”
The story of the game was the Hurricanes dominance in the run game. Miami had 373 yards on the ground to Florida A&M’s 22, an astonishing difference. Yearby and sophomore running back Mark Walton showed what a deadly combo they can be, both exhibiting explosive runs and combining for three touchdowns scored. Yearby rushed seven times for 105 yards, including an impressive 64-yard dash in which he dodged multiple defenders to make his way to the house. Walton rushed 15 times for 116 yards, including a straight-line 37-yard run early in the third quarter. Redshirt junior running back Gus Edwards went for 106 yards on seven carries, a large portion of it coming from a 74-yard explosion for touchdown. This marks the first time three Miami running backs have each rushed for more than 100 yards since 1987.
“Practice plays pays off in the game,” Edwards said. “[Running backs] Coach Thomas Brown has been doing a good job of making us work hard every day, telling us after that, that it will translate into the game and it kind of did today.”
The Rattlers were often hurting themselves, drawing nine penalty calls for a total of 84 yards. One of them was a targeting call against defensive player Antonio Miller, which led to an ejection. The only score for FAMU came on a 31-yard field goal made by Austin Miller with 4:47 left in the second period.
Kaaya kept Miami’s offense steady all night long, connecting on 12 out of 18 passes for 135 yards and four touchdowns to no interceptions. He showed off his arm on a pin-point touchdown pass to junior tight end Christopher Herndon IV, which made the score 21-0 at the 10:57 mark of the second quarter.
“Just getting used to it again,” Kaaya said about playing in the stadium for the first time in nearly a year. “This game helped carrying into next week.”
The Canes’ defense was aggressive all night long, not allowing the Florida A&M quarterback to ever feel comfortable in the pocket. Miami racked up an eye-opening 15 tackles for loss along with three sacks and two interceptions. The stars of the match on defense were redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson, sophomore defensive back Jaquan Johnson and freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman. The three combined for 17 total tackles, 6.5 of them for loss and three sacks.
“We have a tremendous chemistry together, so [when] we went out there today, it was nothing new to us,” Quarterman said about three true freshman starting at linebacker. “We had been planning on this and preparing for this.”
Diaz was impressed with the play of his less experienced defensive players.
“I was really proud of them,” Diaz said. “[I liked] The way they communicated with each other.”
The first game played at the newly named and renovated Hard Rock Stadium included many big-time plays. The huge runs by Yearby, Walton and Edwards were all the longest of their respective careers at the U. Junior wide receiver Braxton Berrios had a spectacular play in which he returned a punt 41 yards for a touchdown in the third period.
“It was about time, right?” Berrios said with a smile. “I knew that if he out-kicked this coverage, it was set up for it.”
Coach Richt talked about his experience being back with the University of Miami and coaching his first game for the program.
“I’ll just say this: I really, really like it here,” Richt said. “I’m very thankful to be here at the U.”
The Canes will look to go to 2-0 when they host FAU next Saturday at 6 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium.
Correction, Sept. 4, 2016: Grammatical errors in the 10th and 12th paragraphs have been corrected.