Kaaya, Watson to headline No. 6 Clemson-Miami matchup
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson first crossed paths two summers ago at an Elite 11 camp in Oregon for some of the nation’s best college-bound quarterbacks.
They’re both still considered elite, with good reason.
They are two of the top sophomore quarterbacks – maybe two of the top quarterbacks, period – in the country these days, and they’ll be the headline attractions on Saturday when Kaaya and Miami (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) play host to Watson and No. 6 Clemson (6-0, 3-0). It’s the first time the Hurricanes and Tigers will have met since 2010.
”In the offseason when we have the chance, we try and train together,” Watson said. ”He’s a great player and a great guy. A greater guy off the field. He’s one of those guys you can hang out with the enjoy.”
The respect that Watson has for Kaaya is obvious, and vice versa.
”I’ve known him for a while,” Kaaya said. ”He’s a good dude. He has a good story.”
Only one of them will have the story they want on Saturday. Miami, which has already lost to the other top Atlantic Division hopeful in Florida State, needs a win to potentially avoid falling well off the pace in the ACC’s Coastal Division race. Clemson has much bigger aspirations than a division title – with the Tigers looking very much a contender for the national title.
It’s not 1-on-1, and neither quarterback will think of it that way anyway. But both sides understand the challenge the other presents.
”They have the best quarterback we’ve seen,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Kaaya. ”He’s smart, he’s poised, he’s very aware of what’s going on. He has great fundamentals for the position and excellent feet. They want to put the ball in his hands and he’s good enough to beat you. … This will be the biggest challenge we’ve had from a coverage standpoint. Every team we’ve played up to this point had a run first mentality. This team wants to throw the football.”
True, Miami throws it with much more success, especially lately. Over the last two games, the Hurricanes have thrown for 701 yards while running for only 119. Kaaya led a second-half comeback attempt against Florida State, then threw a touchdown pass late in last weekend’s win against Virginia Tech to seal the outcome.
Watson has simply been electric at times and keeps teams guessing with his ability to run the ball. But he’s more than just a dual-threat – teammates rave about his ability to throw the deep ball with great accuracy, and Kaaya even acknowledged that’s one of his strengths.
”When the pocket breaks down, he can create,” Miami coach Al Golden said. ”We have to make sure we try and keep him in there, and don’t give him second and third opportunities on the play. He can pull the ball at any point in the run game and get you a big one in the alleys.
”You have to have not just somebody there who can tackle, but multiple people, because he has speed and length and can make you miss.”
Facing Clemson is daunting for anyone right now, and Watson is a major reason why.
But the way the Hurricanes see it, facing Kaaya in practice can only help their chances.
”We see Brad every day,” Miami safety Deon Bush said. ”And Brad is the best quarterback in the country in my opinion. Playing against him gets us ready.”