Hurricanes’ skill position players putting up impressive numbers
University of Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya had just finished faking a handoff when a defender drew closer to him during Saturday’s 55-34 victory over Cincinnati.
Off his back foot and falling backward, Kaaya threw a pass in stride to senior wideout Phillip Dorsett for a 79-yard touchdown.
The connection marked the longest play in both Kaaya’s and Dorsett’s careers. It represented much more than that.
Through the season’s first seven games, several of Miami’s offensive players statistically rank near the top of their respective positions in the Atlantic Coast Conference or nation.
Dorsett leads the country with 34.4 yards per reception. According to the Associated Press, an FBS player has never averaged more than 31.9 yards in a season with a minimum of 30 catches.
After sustaining a knee injury that kept him out the rest of the 2013 campaign, Dorsett looked fully healed by the summer when Miami’s account tweeted his time in the 40-yard dash: 4.2 seconds.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder has 16 catches, sixth among the corps. But they have gone for a team-best 550 yards and six touchdowns. Twice this season, including Saturday, Dorsett has caught a pair of scores. He now has four two-touchdown games in his career.
"I just try to take advantage of every opportunity I get," Dorsett said following Saturday’s contest. "They don’t come a lot, so you’ve got to make a play when your number’s called."
Added Kaaya: "He’s one of the fastest players in the nation, so I know Phillip’s a guy I can trust."
So much uncertainty surrounded Kaaya entering the opener against Louisville.
Kaaya, now 19, arrived on campus in May after graduating from high school. He beat out 23-year-old transfer Jake Heaps for the starting job.
Not only does he pace the ACC with 1,806 yards — 201 more than reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston — but also in touchdowns (16). His 156.3 rating ranks third. Over the past five weeks, he has tossed for 200-plus yards. In three consecutive games, he has found eight different receivers.
Though Kaaya has thrown nine interceptions, he has not committed a turnover in two of the last three matchups.
"I think he’s doing really well," head coach Al Golden said a few weeks ago. "I know he’d like to have a couple throws back. I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think he’s doing really well. He’s poised. He’s distributing the football really well and he’s gone in some big-time environments and answered the bell. I’ve been around first-year starters in my career and couldn’t do what he’s doing right now even though they were maybe starting later in their career."
Senior Clive Walford, named this week to the midseason John Mackey Award watch list, has the third-most receptions (23) and yards (306) in the nation. His four touchdowns are tied for second.
Freshman back Joe Yearby ran for a career-high 113 yards on Saturday, less than a year after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL. Junior Duke Johnson also rushed for 162, making the pair the first at UM to reach the century mark in the same game since 2003.
Johnson, who has been a mentor to Yearby, said he was "glad" to have the opportunity to achieve that feat with him.
"I’m excited to see the kid grow," Johnson said. "Every day he comes in and works hard. He prepares so when things happen like this for him I have nothing but respect because he works hard for it."
On Johnson’s 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, he became the program’s leader in all-purpose yards with 4,427 in just his 27th game.
With the likes of Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee playing for the Hurricanes over the years, Johnson stands at the top of that list. He still has at least five games this season.
"That’s crazy," Dorsett said. "Ever since he stepped foot on this campus I knew he was going to be one of the greatest to come through here. Congrats to him for breaking that record. Only expand it now. We’ve got a lot of games to go, and he’s going to keep getting better."
Nearly a year ago, Johnson sustained a broken ankle that ended a stellar sophomore campaign. He ranks second in the ACC (12th nationally) with 787 rushing yards, averaging 7.2 per carry. Johnson has scored six touchdowns.
In each game this season, Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards. Over the past three weeks, he has notched 100 yards or more.
"His yards per carry and reception have been pretty good all year," Golden said. "I just think from Nebraska on once we got going he’s responded. I don’t know what his numbers are, you guys probably have a better idea of what his numbers are, that 4-5 game stretch. He’s practicing that way. The explosive games he’s getting in practice are carrying over into the game. He’s locked in and really excited about what he’s doing right now."