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Some thoughts and observations after Miami's 41-20 win over Arkansas State Saturday:
> After playing two games in five days last week and looking mediocre at best (29 of 51, 356 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs), quarterback Brad Kaaya and the Miami offense put up a much more encouraging effort against the Red Wolves. Kaaya set a Canes true freshman record with 342 yards and four touchdown passes on 16 of 24 passing with only one interception. Kaaya had more time to throw and nearly all of his throws were on the money. Only two of his incompletions were the product of being hurried and the other was a pass interference penalty on Arkansas State. Kaaya ranks 33rd nationally in quarterback rating (155.09). Only two other freshmen are better: Ohio State's J.T. Barrett (16th, 172.01) and Arizona's Anu Solomon (23rd, 163.59). Stephen Morris' QB rating last year was 144.67.
> Duke Johnson ranks 35th nationally in rushing with 277 yards and 68th with a 6.44 average. But that's hardly disappointing. The truth is he's hardly been put to work in 2014. He's averaging 14.33 attempts this season (tied for 62nd nationally). Last year, Johnson averaged 18 carries a game. Odds are he'll be put to work plenty against Nebraska next week. Nebraska ranks 50th against the run in yards per game and is surrendering 3.77 yards per carry (62nd out of 128 teams). The Canes are averaging 4.66 yards a carry.
> Phillip Dorsett's 201-yard day Saturday elevated his average per catch to 35.5 yards. That ranks third nationally. Nebraksa has already surrendered eight pass plays of 20 yards or more this season. Where the Cornhuskers have been good on defense is opposing quarterback rating (9th, 86.32) and they've only given up two passing touchdowns all year. They've also produced just one interception. A healthy Dorsett will help Miami stretch that defense out. If Stacy Coley can return healthy -- and Golden thinks he will -- that will also help.
> Call freshman receiver Braxton Berrios the Canes' money man. He's been targeted a team-leading 17 times and the ball has been thrown his way on money downs (third and fourth down) eight times. He's produced five first downs (one on a pass interference call). He's currently tied for the team lead with 10 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
> FYI, here are your team leaders in targets: Berrios 17, Dorsett 14, Clive Walford 12, Herb Waters 11, Coley 8, Duke Johnson 7, Malcolm Lewis 7.
> Sure, the Hurricanes rank eighth in total defense (259.7 yards per game) and 35th in scoring defense (19.3), but where they've really made the most improvement is against the run. They rank fourth nationally (2.02 yards per attempt) against the run. Last year Miami ranked 78th against the run (4.4) in yards per attempt. The Canes have give up just seven runs of 10 yards or more this year. Last year they gave up 70 runs of 10 yards or more (tied for 73rd).
> Of course, Nebraska will be an entirely different animal. The Cornhuskers rank third nationally with a 7.37 yard per carry average. They're also averaging 324 yards per game on the ground. Tailback Ameer Abdullah, an NFL-caliber tailback, has run for 396 yards and three touchdowns on 57 attempts.
> The Hurricanes were better on third down Saturday offensively (5 of 12), but still aren't doing a great job overall. A little research shows the team has been flat out terrible on third and long (seven yards or more) on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Canes have been in third down and seven yards or longer 18 times already this season and have produced just one first down (5 of 13 passing, two interceptions). On the flip side, the defense has been in third and long situations 15 times and has allowed seven first downs on 8-of-15 passing.
> Overall on third down, Miami's defense has given up a first down half the time opponents have decided to throw (12 of 24) against them. That's where Miami fans are frustrated with defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. Defensive backs seem lost in coverage at times and receivers far too wide open. Miami has produced just one interception (Raphael Kirby picked off the punter against Arkansas State) and although the Hurricanes have produced 11 sacks they've only produced five quarterback hurries. They averaged only two QB hurries a game last year.
> The Hurricanes have surrendered six sacks through their first three games. Miami gave up all of 17 last season. Not all of the blame should fall on the offense line. Duke Johnson whiffed on a block Saturday against Arkansas State and Kaaya was sacked. Kaaya was also called for intentional grounding (that counts as a sack) and has been guilty of holding onto the ball a little too long according to offensive coordinator James Coley.
> Miami was flagged 11 times for 93 yards Saturday against Arkansas State. The 11 flags were tied for the most in the Golden era (UM had 11 penalties for 84 yards vs. Duke back in 2012). Golden wasn't happy with Ufomba Kamalu's body slam penalty and the two pass interference penalties Miami drew against Arkansas State (Artie Burns, Tracy Howard were guilty).
> Left tackle Ereck Flowers was flagged three times Saturday against Arkansas State. He's actually tied for the team lead in penalties with right guard Danny Isidora, who has been flagged four times including three for false starts. Flowers has been hit with two holding penalties and two false starts.
> Miami's special teams play thus far has been horrendous and Saturday provided the latest example of continued poor play on kickoff coverage. Golden, who coaches the special team, said he played more freshmen on the coverage and return teams Saturday so his regular defensive players could better deal with the up-tempo style of Arkansas State's offense. Kickoff specialist Justin Vogel also didn't get a lot of hang time on his kicks Golden said.
"The one they hit for us big [before the half] was 3.77 [seconds in the air]," Golden said. "That's not good enough. We had nobody inside the 30 when he caught it. That's a disaster."
> Walk-on freshman Michael Badgley missed an extra point Saturday and finished 5-of-6 on PATs. Miami didn't have to attempt a field goal against Arkansas State, but it's going to be important Matt Goudis (back) healthy and ready to go next week at Nebraska. Golden said he wasn't sure Goudis would be. Nebraska, by the way, has been mediocre on kickoff returns with a 19.78 average. Miami is averaging 19.43 yards per kick return.
> The Hurricanes continue to get stellar production from former no-star recruit Thurston Armbrister. He had a sack and a team-leading nine tackles Saturday.