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First reads mean 51-point fun: Kaaya, Miami offense return to form

Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire

A healthy Brad Kaaya and a keen observation jolted the Miami Hurricanes’ offense into gear on Saturday, returning it to the form that led to a 4-0 start and a No. 10 ranking.

Kaaya, a shell of himself over the last four games — all losses — as he played through a right (throwing) shoulder injury, showed no ill effects in Saturday’s 51-28 victory over Pittsburgh at Hard Rock Stadium. Even heavy rains couldn’t prevent Kaaya from throwing for 356 yards and four touchdowns.

He completed a season-high 32 passes in a season-high 47 attempts with no interceptions. Yes, the shoulder is doing much better. His passes returned to the sharpness and accuracy that have pro scouts keeping a close eye on his progress.

“I felt really healthy,” Kaaya said in the postgame press conference.

So healthy, in fact, that Kaaya took off for a career-best 12-yard run and also scored his first rushing touchdown at Miami on a 1-yard run to finish the game with a career-high five touchdowns.

Watching plenty of film and then game planning accordingly was a big key as well. Preparation played a significant role in helping Kaaya and the offense take advantage of what the Panthers do defensively.

“When people play man coverage, you throw to your first progression,” noted head coach Mark Richt after the game.

“You don’t have to hold the ball very long. (Pittsburgh) plays a lot of man coverage. That’s what they do. A lot of the decisions were first-progression decisions and because of that, the ball was coming out.

“We actually watched tape of Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech, and saw you don’t have to hold it long. Just about everything that we had schemed up and dialed up had a chance for success.”

Kaaya completed his first 13 passes (180 yards, two touchdowns) and has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 30 career games. In his 10th 300-yard performance, Kaaya increased his career passing yardage to 8,776, which ranks 17th on the Canes’ all-time list.

“There were a few things that were new down in the red area, one that was a touchdown that ended up being called back,” Richt said. “And we had another one when (Stacy) Coley caught it. After watching one more reel of tape, it just kind of hit me that this has got a really good chance of scoring down there inside the 5.”

It was one of a career-high nine catches for Coley, who now has 148 catches as a Canes player, moving past legends of the program Michael Irvin, Santana Moss and Lamar Thomas, and into second place on the all-time list. Only Reggie Wayne (173) had more.

These and other players benefited from an overall dominating performance, from the offensive line to the run game and more. It was an offensive explosion, 534 yards in total, that is topped this season only by a 549-yard output in mid-September at Appalachian State. The 51 points scored were the most since the season opener, a 70-3 victory over Florida A&M in Richt’s debut as head coach at Miami.

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