We waited almost nine months for opening night, and somehow it looked a lot like that December night at the Russell Athletic Bowl game. The defense actually played really well for most of the night, but was again let down by the offense’s lack of stringing together first downs and keeping them out on the field for way too long. Just like last year.
True freshman or no true freshman, the offense was just flat-out bad. The play-calling was just as bad, if not worse. The Canes only mustered twelve first downs (nine before the last drive) and 244 yards in total, and a lot of those came in that last drive. Those numbers won’t win you many ball games, especially on the road.
The “new” quarterback battle was won by Louisville’s Will Gardner. The sophomore quarterback did fumble the ball twice, but he led his team down the field and his team came out with the win. Gardner finished the game with 206 passing yards and two touchdowns. Kaaya, on the other hand, showed some flashes of greatness, but as you would expect from a freshman: he had his struggles. 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions was the final stat line by the freshman.
The opening defensive drive was a pleasant surprise for everyone that follows Miami Hurricanes football. Mark D’Onofrio’s defense looked good for the first drive. They stopped the run and brought some pressure on first and second down, and were fortunate to benefit from a third-down drop to get off the field. Unfortunately, the second drive wasn’t as good. In fact, it looked like we were all watching the 2013 Hurricanes all over again. Weak zone, linebackers on slot receivers, that drive was just a disaster.
The Brad Kaaya era didn’t exactly start off smoothly, either. Miami followed Louisville’s initial 3-and-out with one of their own. James Burgess Jr. laid the boom on Kaaya on third down, and it was that cliche “welcome to college” moment, but I’m glad it came early.
Louisville jumped out to a 7-0 lead thanks to a Will Gardner to Charles Standberry throw from two-yards out. But shortly after that, Miami had their best drive of their own. Duke Johnson — who had a rough start — finally got going. He connected on a couple of his famous stiff arms, and also broke out for a 24-yard run that got Miami into Louisville territory for the first time. After a negative run from Johnson, Miami went the play-action route and Kaaya connected with Clive Walford for 31 yards. The duo linked up again the following play for a 2-yard touchdown that evened up the game at 7.
The very next play after the Miami touchdown? Anthony Chickillo and Denzel Perryman, who led the team in tackles with 12, laid a hit on Gardner and the Louisville quarterback put the ball on the floor. Thurston Armbrister swooped in and recovered the fumble at the Louisville 7-yard line.
Miami had all of the momentum but unfortunately, the Hurricanes (and the refs, but we’ll ignore that for now) made a mistake.
Louisville’s defense was all over the place (and had a ton of guys on the field), so Miami tried a screen to Coley, but the ball was a little bit under-thrown and Coley wasn’t able to handle it and since it was a backwards pass, the ruling is a fumble. Initially, the play was blown dead by the line judge and ruled an incomplete pass, but after review, they awarded the ball back to Louisville and the Canes blew a golden opportunity to extend their lead.
Miami would eventually take a 10-7 lead after a 24-yard field goal by Matt Goudis, but the Canes being on top didn’t last long.
On the ensuing kickoff, ex-Miami Northwestern star (why is it always a Northwestern guy?) CorVin Lamb took it 97-yards and gave the Cardinals the lead, just like that.
The Canes defense was probably the best unit out for the first half (crazy, I know.) The offensive line had a lot of problems, and the special teams was responsible for half of Louisville’s points. Outside of one terrible drive, the defense played really well.
The second half started off just how must of the first-half played out. A quick Canes three-and-out, and then the defense making a big play (it’s really scary, but awesome.) Armbrister was able to strip Gardner of the ball on a sack, and the ball was picked up by Raphael Kirby at the Louisville 8-yard line.
After three really bad play calls on offense, the Canes were forced to kick a Goudis field goal to cut the Louisville lead to 14-13.
After Miami’s offense failure of stringing first-downs, Louisville finally cracked the Canes defense. A 15-yard Dominique Brown touchdown run gave the Cardinals a 21-13 lead.
On the ensuing Miami drive, the Canes offense FINALLY picked up a third-down conversion to keep the defense off the field (their first third-down conversion against Louisville since 2006. sigh.) Following the first down was Brad Kaaya’s first interception of his career. It was a really bad decision from the freshman, but it was an even worse throw. He under-threw tight end Standish Dobard and James Sample undercut it for the pick.
9 plays later, Louisville kicked a field goal to take a 24-13 lead with 13:11 left in the game.
Duke Johnson finally found some room in the second half. He ran for 11 yards, and then followed that with an impressive 21-yard gain down the sideline to put the Canes in Cardinals territory. The next play, Miami ran a wheel route for Johnson and he was down at the Louisville 3-yard line. But there was a flag for illegal man downfield on Danny Isidora. The Canes ended up turning the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass intended for Stacy Coley.
After pounding the ball for almost eight minutes against an exhausted defense, Gardner connected with Christian for the second time in the game to ultimately give the Cardinals a 31-13 win over Miami.
Duke Johnson finished the game with 90 rushing yards on 20 attempts in his first game back since his broken ankle injury, while Dominique Brown went for 143 yards on 33 carries.
The Hurricanes fall to 0-1 this season, and they host Florida A&M in week 2 on September 6th.