Coach Al Golden surprised us all by letting us watch what was originally supposed to be a closed scrimmage Saturday.
It was the second scrimmage of spring, with the final one -- the spring game -- free and open to the public at noon next Saturday, March 28, at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
On a super hot and sunny day (surprise!) at Greentree Field, the Canes' offense and defense had their good and sometimes not-so-good moments.
Like Golden told us after the scrimmage, "There's no way to win as the head coach. It's just a question of watching guys getting great matchups.''
Thus, for every great play on someone's part, someone else on the other side missed making one.
Starting quarterback Brad Kaaya had an admirable effort considering he has been pretty sick with the flu all week, and still sounded kind of lousy and sickish when he spoke to us this afternoon.
Second-team quarterback Malik Rosier continues to look better and better. He runs an offense that is quicker-paced and takes advantage of his mobility and elusiveness. He can use his feet or his hands, and he throws a nice ball. He's very easy to like, as is Kaaya. Both guys are reflective and direct in answering our questions. Both are nice guys and have a nice touch on the field. Please keep in mind that UM's second-team defense is not nearly as good as its first-team defense.
Kaaya completed 12 of 19 passes for 140 yards -- a 71-yard chunk of that going to tailback Joe Yearby on a screen play.
Rosier, who stayed behind in Coral Gables instead of traveling with the baseball team to Wake Forest for an ACC road trip, took advantage of his opportunities. Rosier completed 5 of 10 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Rosier's last two passes were TD passes to Malcolm Lewis. The first was for 26 yards and the last, for 45 yards.
"I'm kind of missing baseball,'' Rosier said, "but at the same time I'm keeping up. I heard DT [David Thompson] hit a two-run homer or a home run last night, which was great (actually, two home runs, including a grand slam), so I'm keeping up with the guys, but yeah, kind of a blessing in disguise being here and getting more time in with the ones.''
Rosier said he knew he needed to stay behind because of Kaaya's flu this past week. "When Coach [James] Coley called me and said that Brad was out, it was clear that he needed me here to run the offense 'cause it's nothing against Vinny, but he just transferred from Texas Tech so the playbook's still difficult. Vinny's getting there, but yeah, Coach Coley needed me here, which actually paid off for me in the long run.''
Together, the QBs completed 17 of 29 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
Lewis had a nice day, catching four passes for 89 yards and the two scores -- 15 yards, 3 yards and the two TDs.
Gus Edwards got the first carry of the scrimmage and ended with 16 carries for 85 yards.
Yearby is looking really good these days, though we expect him to put on more meat as the months pass. He ran seven times for 34 yards and a 16-yard touchdown on the scrimmage's second series, led by Rosier. His touchdown was the 71-yarder, with the defense trying its best to catch him, but to no avail.
Newcomer Vincent Testaverde, a walk-on transfer from Texas Tech, took part in two series. He threw two passes, both incompletions. But just before the scrimmage began, in 9-on-9 drills, threw a beauty of a deep pass to D'Mauri Jones near the left sideline.
Also of note: rising sophomore wide receiver Braxton Berrios made two great plays in this scrimmage before getting hurt in his midsection, apparently his ribs. Berrios' first catch was on a 56-yard screen pass from Rosier. He gracefully zigged and zagged around defenders on that one. Two plays later, Yearby rushed for his touchdown.
Berrios was at it again with a rugged catch in heavy traffic for 20 yards. He clutched the ball as if his life depended on it. He also went down on the play, injuring what appeared to be his midsection/ribs. He didn't play after that, standing the whole time on the sideline with a thick wrap or some type of padding over his midsection.
"He got the wind knocked out of him,'' Golden said. "Whether or not it turned into something with his ribs to be careful with, that's it. We're just being real cautious right now. I blew a couple of drives dead just because the play count was getting high. We've got to be careful this time of year. We're very grateful we came out of it good.''
Here's what Rosier had to say about Berrios' catch in traffic: "Yeah, it was kind of a scramble. We call it 'basic concept.' The line wasn't supposed to cut, so when they cut, the D-line got up really fast, so I tried to make a move. When I did, he turned the out route up and I threw it to him. It was a good catch. yeah, it was a great catch and I kinda feel bad I got him hurt. He was like, 'Naw, it's fine. It's part of football.'
Defensively, the Canes registered four sacks, courtesy of tackle Anthony Moten, defensive end Trent Harris, safety Deon Bush and middle linebacker Juwon Young.
There were eight tackles for loss.
The leading tackler was strong-side linebacker Darrion Owens.
"I think we improved,'' Owens said, "but there's a lot of improvement to go to be a better team.''
Owens admitted he "should have'' caught Yearby on the touchdown reception. "I had him on that play,'' Owens said. "He's kind of fast. He just got outside me. It's something I've got to fix.''
Starting middle linebacker Raphael Kirby said the defense "started fast'' with "great energy'' and "finished well. We are a lot more comfortable, guys doing their job, just the accountability has really picked up over the last couple weeks. No mishaps, guys in their gaps and that's what's going to make us great.''
Kirby insisted that the first-team defense outplayed the first-team offense.
"We won,'' he said. "I know the ones beat the ones on the offense.''
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said he didn't "want to sound like a broken record -- this is spring No. 5 -- but I always talk about spring being for the individual improvement, and summer and training camp being when the unit develops together. You're really focusing on individuals. You're trying to work different guys. The depth chart is being flipped back and forth. Certain guys are getting looks with the twos and ones, or the threes. We're focused on indivudals.''
So, which individuals looked good to D'Onofrio?
"You know what's hard?'' he said. "The one thing people may not realize, when we scrimmage against one another, when we go ones, twos, ones, twos, I don't get a break between the series. I'm just calling defense. There's no time to digest the previous series. So, for two hours straight I'm just calling defenses. Overall, I thought the first unit, just to the naked eye, did a really nice job. I thought they were locked in and played well. I thought the second unit started a little slow and finished a little better.''
The ugly: a lot of penalties. We don't have official numbers, but we do know there were six penalties during the first two drives and eight penalties during the first three drives.
"It was just a little sloppy today,'' Kaaya said. "I made a few good throws. We just had too many penalties, too many [self-inflicted] penalties. A few offsides, a few holdings. The first-team offense would get in there and we'd make a 30-yard run and it gets called 15 yards back. That's tough when it's first-and-15. Pretty much every drive, every third down it would go from third-and-1 to third-and-9, or third-and-10, so it was hard -- or even third-and-15. It's hard to stay on schedule when it's like that.''
** Sitting out of the scrimmage with injuries or recuperating from injuries were cornerback Tracy Howard (shoulder), defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou (knee), linebacker Tyriq McCord (knee), offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois (knee), safety Rayshawn Jenkins (back) and defensive end Scott Patchan (knee) and offensive lineman Hunter Knighton.
*** In the kicking game, Michael Badgely kicked a 42-yard field-goal attempt short, but on the mark; He then was given another chance, and kicked it wide right.
*** The only turnover of the scrimmage was a fumble by tight end Stan Dobard. Cornerback Artie Burns recovered the fumble.
*** The offensive line, as is usually the case, had some players rotate in and out at various positions. "For instance,'' Golden said, [Alex] Gall after two series went to center. [Hunter] Wells came in at left guard. Kc [McDermott] I know played right tackle and left tackle today. Danny Isidora played right guard and right tackle. Joe Brown some at right guard with the ones.
The starters, from left to right, were Trevor Darling, Hunter Wells, Nick Linder, Danny Isidora and Sunny Odogwu.
"We're not ready to settle in. But I thought it was a good effort. Those guys want to please, man. They want to work and that's going to be good for us.''
The Canes meet again on Tuesday for practice.
*** Jaquwan Nelson, a 6-4, 230-pound defensive end out of Fort Lauderdale high, on Saturday committed to UM’s Class of 2016. He is not rated by recruiting sites rivals.com and 247sports.com.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN