Miami Hurricanes: Game Grades versus Pittsburgh Panthers

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (82) makes a catch in front of Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Ryan Lewis (38) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes and Mark Richt and felt the sweetness of victory of victory for the first time in over a month. They finally ended their four-game losing streak against the Pittsburgh Panthers and looked decent doing so.

The ‘Canes sparked on offense with fireworks from multiple players on their way to a 51-28 victory and created havoc on defensively. The ‘Canes played better in almost all facets of the game than they had over the past month. Miami scored 2:14 which was a recipe for success Saturday.

The Miami coaching staff knew that had to improve offensively to keep up with the Panthers high powered offense. The Hurricanes offense had scored only 90 points in the five games leading up to Pittsburgh.

Pitt came into the game averaging 38.1 points and 231.8 yards rushing per game. Here is how the Miami Hurricanes’ units graded in Saturday’s victory?

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) throws a pass during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Grade – A +

Brad Kaaya faced a lot of criticism from fans this season. There have been a lot of whispers about Kaaya’s health and or if he had regressed from last season throughout social media and the talk shows. For at least a day, Kaaya silenced the critics.

Kaaya threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns. He added 17 yards rushing and a touchdown. The play calling and schemes implemented by Mark Richt allowed Kaaya to succeed. Kaaya took advantage of Pittsburgh’s frequent man to man coverage by completing 68 percent of his passes.

Kaaya got rid of the ball quickly and took Pittsburgh’s aggressive defensive line out of the game with short passes and screens. This will be a game tape Kaaya will want NFL scouts to see based on his high grade in this game.

Kaaya’s season, in general, has to be considered a disappointment. He was expected to be selected in the top ten of most NFL mock draft. Through nine games and ten weeks of the college football season, he is ranked seventh or eighth in most the passing categories in the ACC.

The offensive success was not solely due to Brad Kaaya’s excellence. The offensive line played arguably its best games of the season against a good Pittsburgh pass rush.

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) throws a pass during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) throws a pass during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line Grade – B

Many of the offensive issues during the four-game losing streak were because of the poor play of the offensive line. The group struggled to generate any kind of pocket for Kaaya or get any push in the run game. In last week’s game against Notre Dame, they allowed six tackles for loss and five sacks against a team that had only generated six sacks in their first seven games.

In Saturday’s game, the offensive line played much better. Miami was able to have an effective balance on the ground and through the air.  Right tackle Tyree St. Louis held his own against one of the better defensive ends in the country, Ejuan Price. The Miami running backs,

The Miami running backs, Mark Walton and Joe Yearby, rushed 178 yards, the first time the duo went over the century mark since September. Pittsburgh was only allowing 3.5 yards a carry entering the game against the Hurricanes.

Miami used the pass to set up the run game. That allowed the offensive line to show major improvement. This effective scheme will help the offensive line’s issues in the future and will generate more success for them.

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku (86) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Receiving Corps Grade – B+

Miami’s wide receivers and tight ends dismantled the Pittsburgh secondary on their way to 51 points. Tight end David Njoku and wide receivers Stacy Coley and Ahmmon Richards led the way in the receiving game. Despite two drops by Njoku and two offensive penalties by Coley, the receiving corps had a field day.

Njoku had six receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns, Coley nine for 59 and two touchdowns and Richards eight for 144, including. Njoku and Richards each had a highlight reel play that was acknowledged by the #accmust hashtag on social media.

Richards, a freshman, ranks 9th nationally in yards per catch. Opening up the offense and passing more often might help the offensive line protect Kaaya. The miss matches were evident against the Pitt secondary and Mark Richt’s play calling took advantage of it.

Richards has had an exceptional freshman season. He has become Kaaya’s favorite deep threat. Richards leads the Hurricanes with 632 receiving yards and 20.4 yards per catch. In spite of his explosiveness he only has one touchdown.

Miami needs to minimize the penalties and drops that are huge drive killers. They need to clean it up in order to be successful for the rest of the season.

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) carries the ball as Miami Hurricanes linebacker Zach McCloud (53) makes the tackle during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Defense Grade – B+

The Miami defense was more bend than Break against Pittsburgh. They allowed 417 yards, but only 21 points. The special teams allowed a 100-yard kickoff return to the Panthers Quadree Henderson.  The ‘Canes defense has kept in every game except Virginia Tech despite the lack of depth and injuries. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz deserves a medal for what he has to work with. He has the ‘Canes defense ranked

The ‘Canes defense has helped the team stay in every game except Virginia Tech despite the lack of depth and injuries. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz deserves a medal for what he has gotten out of  what has often been a shorthanded defense. He has the ‘Canes defense ranked near the top in most categories.

Everyone on the defense is battling bumps, bruises, and other injuries. Yet, they still play hard and manage to be effective. The defense held the run-heavy Panthers to 130 yards and 3.5 yards per carry and James Conner to only 40 yards.

The difference in the game was Miami’s ability to create turnovers on defense. Chad Thomas recovered a Kendrick Norton forced fumble and Rayshawn Jenkins had a crucial interception in the Red Zone. That was the defense’s first turnover in four games. Their last one was in the loss to Florida State.

Miami needs to do a better job on third down defensively. The Panthers had stretches throughout the game that they were able to convert on third down and put points on the board. Much of that can be attributed to the limited depth defensively.

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Quadree Henderson (10) runs past Miami Hurricanes linebacker Charles Perry (34) for a touchdown during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams – C+

In last week’s game against Notre Dame, special teams were a critical characteristic of Miami’s comeback. From blocked extra points and kicks, special teams have had it’s ups and downs this season. Against the Panthers, the ‘Canes kickoff coverage allowed a

Kick Coverage

Against the Panthers, the ‘Canes kickoff coverage allowed a 100-yard touchdown return to Pittsburgh’s Quadree Henderson early in the game. If the offense did not sustain success, that could have shifted momentum for the worse.

Kicking Game

Besides the allowed kickoff return for a touchdown, the unit executed well. Kicker Michael Badgley hit three field goals for the day with a long of 48 yards.  Punter Justin Vogel punted five times for an average of 45 yards with one punt inside the five-yard line.

Returns

Malcolm Lewis was exceptional on kickoff returns, averaging 27.3 yards with a long of 34 yards. Braxton Berrios had two punt returns for 22 yards with a long of 15. Lewis and Berrios are averaging 20.5 YPR.

Berrios has been outstanding on punt returns this season. His 13.3-yard average ranks 13th nationally. His one return for a touchdown has been exceeded by only five players in FBS.

The Hurricanes kick return game has lacked the explosiveness that Berrios has given them punt returns.  Their 20.54 average yards per return as a team ranks 67th in the country. Miami has yet to return a kick for a touchdown this season.

Miami’s offense showed a lot of improvement over the last four weeks in the win against Pittsburgh. That performance has to be tempered against the Panthers 87th ranked defense. The defense remains exceptional. They are still among the nation’s elite, allowing 19.9 PPG.

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