CHARLOTTESVILLE (pre-flight home) -- Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya didn't know what hit him last night at Scott Stadium -- literally and figuratively.
Neither did receiver Herb Waters.
Thankfully, both are alive, if not well, this morning.
Waters, a warm, friendly junior from Homestead who is always smiling, was hit hard last night on a helmet-to-helmet episode during a kickoff late in the third quarter. From what I recall, he stumbled backward and his head kind of snapped back, and then he fell.
Doctors and trainers and lots of other people surrounded him for quite a while, and then he was strapped to a gurney and driven by cart off the field, as his teammates prayed on their knees and star tailback Duke Johnson cried.
He was taken by ambulance to University of Virginia Medical Center.
Thankfully, just before midnight, UM reported that Waters was released from the hospital and was cleared to return home with the team. That's awesome news that all of us needed to hear.
If you recall, last year's last home game was against Virginia, and in that game, UM cornerback Ladarius Gunter had the same type of experience with a neck injury. He also ended up being fine, after wearing a neck brace.
"I wouldn't say we lost our concentration, but everyone was sad after that,'' said UM safety Jamal Carter, who made his first career start because Deon Bush is injured (hamstring) and didn't travel. "He just waved to us and gave us a thumbs up so that we knew he was alright.''
Speaking of Deon Bush, UM needed him badly last night. After watching the touchdown play deemed No. 2 on ESPN SportsCenter last night -- the 23-yard pass that Canaan Severin of UVA acrobatically grabbed with one hand (gorgeous catch) and then fell into the end zone with 3:21 left in the second quarter to make it 10-7 Virginia -- it seems Bush would have known just what to do to prevent that.
Carter leaped awkwardly trying to make a play near, but not with, Severin. He needed to defend Severin and put a hurtin' on him (legally, of course). He also, obviously, shouldn't have spiked the ball after intercepting a 43-yard pass by Greyson Lambert with 12:30 left in the third quarter.
What was he thinking on the spike? I don't think much. I just think he's young and was very psyched about the pick and did something that he won't do again.
As for poor Kaaya, after getting sacked four times and pummeled much of the night, it's understandable that he was shaky and rushed some throws and made some errant ones. The kid is a fighter. Love his attitude.
“I told the team, ‘You know, we’ve got senior night coming up next week. Forget about the seniors. Let’s do it for Coach Golden. He always puts the team on his back, never pinpointing anybody. We need to just go out and do it for him. Let’s not do it for anybody else. Let’s do it for Coach Golden.”'
Walford was basically asked why he felt compelled to defend Golden.
“Because, man, that’s a great coach,” Walford said. “He wants it as bad as we do. Every single week, if we come up short, he never points the finger at no player. He always takes the blame. I feel like it’s time for the players to start taking the blame and lay it on the line for coach.”
Linebacker Denzel Perryman, who had another impressive performance, with 15 tackles and a forced fumble, sat near Walford and agreed wholeheartedly. Both will soon be in the NFL.
“Clive pretty much just said it all,” Perryman said. “It’s time for us to take the blame and get the load off coach Golden. Like Clive said, he always gets up here in front of you all and puts the losses on the coaches. But at the end of the day it’s on us. We’re out there making the plays.”
Perryman said he takes the criticism of Golden "real personal because a lot of people are looking at it from the outside in. They really don’t know what’s going on. Outsiders, they think they know football. That really gets to me.
"Whether it’s family, friends, or just normal fans, that kind of stuff … they criticize the coaches, but little do they know, [the coaches] put us in great situations to make plays.”
Added Walford: "I feel the same as Denzel. You’ve got a lot of people who think they know football looking from the outside in, that don’t really know all the hard work and dedication that goes into calling certain plays and doing certain things. Me personally, I think coach Golden is a great coach. He always puts us in the right situation to come up and win the game.
“It ain’t on the coaches. The coaches coach. The players play. The players have to actually get out there and win the game.”
UM's final regular-season game is at 7 p.m. Saturday against Pittsburgh. At this point, nothing is a given, though UM plays very well at Sun Life Stadium. Hope some fans show for Senior Night.
Something kind of crummy for Hurricanes 'round the nation crossed my mind more than once. If UM should lose next week and then lose the bowl game, it would end the season 6-7.
Then again, if Miami wins its next two, it would finish 8-5. OK, not fabulous, to say the least. But it beats the alternative.
Off to the airport.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN