Miami is coming back to South Bend to reignite a once-great rivalry and is feeling good about their quarterback under the leadership of new head coach Mark Richt.
Starters Returning: 9/11
Key Losses: WR Rashawn Scott, WR Herb Waters, WR Tyre Brady, RG Joe Brown
Key Returnees: QB Brad Kaaya, RB Joseph Yearby, RB Mark Walton, WR Stacy Coley, TE Standish Dobard, TE David Njoku, TE Chris Herndon, LT Trevor Darling, C Nick Linder, RG Danny Isidora
FEI Offense Rank: 52
S&P Offense Rank: 45
S&P Rush Rank: 116
S&P Passing Rank: 12
Turnovers: 14 (9 INT)
Get Ready for Kaaya Hype
As things stand right now Brad Kaaya is the best quarterback the Irish will face this upcoming season. If you need a strong dose of what that is head over to SB Nation's State of the U blog where practically every other football post since the start of the year is about Kaaya becoming an elite quarterback.
Is it true that Kaaya is really THIS good? Well, maybe.
He was competent as a true freshman in 2014 and that always scores a bunch of points in the national media. Last year, his completion percentage shot up nearly 3% while he maintained a very potent YPA (8.5 in 2014, 8.3 in 2015) and general big-play ability with his arm. Kaaya also earns a lot of bonus points for being good despite not being surrounded by a lot of talent.
A lot of mock drafts now have him pushing well into the first round and possibly in competition with Deshaun Watson as the top quarterback. That's some really high praise.
If you're being critical it's fair to say that Kaaya hasn't quite been as productive (again, supporting cast problems) as his NFL hype suggests. Part of that reason is he's very much a pocket passer and offers almost nothing in the run game. Just for comparisons sake, Watson accounted for 2,090 more total yards and 20 more touchdowns than Kaaya last year. Notre Dame's own DeShone Kizer totaled 281 more yards and 13 more touchdowns, too.
Give Him Weapons
The Hurricanes lost 2 out of their 3 main receivers and if Kaaya is going to have a dominant season they'll have to find some replacements very quickly. Former elite recruit and rising senior Stacy Coley returns after posting an impressive 47 receptions, 689 yards, and 4 touchdowns but no one else on the roster accounted for 100 yards last year.
The good news is that there's help at tight end. The trio of Dobard, Njoku, and Herndon combined for 47 receptions in 2015 and offer plenty of starting experience.
Miami is likely going to rely on an excellent crop of incoming freshmen receivers. Sam Bruce and Dionte Mullins both were offered by Notre Dame and they join Ahmmon Richards as mid-4 star recruits ready to make an impact. The Canes are also welcoming in star JUCO receiver Dayall Harris, as well.
Run Game Balance
If you know anything about new head coach Mark Richt it's that he likes to run the ball. However, the scouting report with Miami is a far cry from the rushing production Richt was used to while at Georgia.
Miami does feel pretty good about its talent coming back. Joseph Yearby totaled 1,002 yards last year while Mark Walton rushed for nearly 500 as a true freshman. Rising junior Trayone Gray has some experience, as well. Walton was arrested for a DUI this spring and suspended indefinitely but should be back with the team long before the Notre Dame game, if not before the start of the season.
The Hurricanes bigger problems are up front on the offensive line where all starts return across 6 players but a couple of injuries during spring and general lack of cohesion has thrown the unit into flux.
Simply put, Miami needs to improve vastly on their 112th rated YPC rushing, explosiveness on the ground (110th nationally in 20+ rushes), and protection of Kaaya.
Mark Richt is going to improve the running game while Brad Kaaya is going to spread his wings as one of the nation's top quarterbacks. That's the plan in Coral Gables, at least.
There is nowhere to go but up with the run game but I'm curious to see how Kaaya is affected by the loss of some key receivers. Miami was tied for 13th nationally with 31 passes of at least 30 yards and who knows what could happen to the offense if that big-play ability is stifled thanks to some unproven receivers?
I can see a scenario where Miami isn't quite as explosive throwing the ball but the offense as a whole takes a step forward and out from underneath the average rankings it had last year. If Kaaya's smart decision making continues to flourish (+11 in turnover differential last year) then there's plenty of hope that the Canes are going to finally make some noise on the national scene.
Even with a bunch of starters returning this would be a good season to face Miami early in the season. Unfortunately, by the time they come to South Bend they should be more than comfortable in Richt's system and already content with their young receiving corps.