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Brad Kaaya has room to improve -- especially on 3rd down, in the 4th quarter and in the red zone

He's The Golden Boy from The Golden State.

He's Brad Kaaya, The Messiah.

He's what most Hurricanes fans are clinging to as THE REASON FOR HOPE this coming season.

That's an awful lot of pressure for a 19-year-old.

That pressure is only amplified when you consider Kaaya said good-bye to the all-time leading rusher in UM history (Duke Johnson), a starting left tackle who was a first round pick (Ereck Flowers), his favorite deep threat who was also a first round pick (Phillip Dorsett), and one of the most productive tight ends in UM history (Clive Walford).

But hey, go get 'em Brad. Never mind you've got an offensive line with only 22 combined games of starting experience.

Kaaya, who turns 20 two days before the season-opener against Bethune-Cookman, certainly has the talent and smarts to become one of the best quarterbacks in Canes history. But he still has a lot of growing to do as a passer -- as do most of the guys around him on UM's offense.

There are three areas the best quarterbacks in the game separate themselves from the rest of the pack: third downs, the fourth quarter and the red zone. 

Kaaya, who led the ACC in quarterback efficiency (145.88) and touchdowns (26) last season and was one of only two freshmen in the country (Ohio State's J.T. Barrett was the other) to rank in the top 36 in QBR, needs to improve in all of those to truly become elite. 

An examination of the top 10 quarterbacks in QBR last season (Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Ohio State's Barrett, Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty, USC's Cody Kessler, Colorado State's Garret Grayson, Western Michigan's Zach Terrell, Alabama's Blake Sims, Baylor's Bryce Petty, Boise State's Bryce Petty, Georgia's Hutson Mason) as well as a few others taken in the NFL draft (Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Oregon State's Sean Mannion) shows Kaaya's numbers in those three vital areas isn't up to par.

THIRD DOWN BREAKDOWN

On third downs, where UM ranked 95th nationally as a team (36.81 conversion rate), Kaaya was 57 of 99 (57.6 percent) for 759 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions for a 134.61 rating. While those numbers weren't nearly as bad as Stephen Morris' in 2013 on third down (40-100, 664 yards, 3 TDs, 9 INTs, 87.68 rating), it wasn't as good as what Morris put up in 2012 (71 of 122 for 1,103 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT, 146.02 rating) or even Jacory Harris in 2011 (53 of 89 for 701 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 144.92 rating).

Of the 13 elite quarterbacks mentioned above, only Petty (125.08), Hedrick (117.92) and Mannion (123.23) had a lower QBR than Kaaya on third downs last season.

The ultimate goal on third down is to move the chains. Kaaya did so with his arm 35.4 percent of the time. Winston, by comparison, did it 47.3 percent of the time. Mariota did it 51.6 percent of the time and Sims led the nation at 52.6 percent.

FOURTH QUARTER BLUES

It's pretty clear: Kaaya's worst quarter last season was the fourth quarter.

> First quarter stats: 69 of 104 (66.3 percent), 1,013 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs, 166.53 rating.

> Second quarter stats: 58 of 103 (56.3 percent), 851 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 150.67 rating.

> Third quarter stats: 49 of 87 (56.3 percent), 771 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs, 152.71 rating.

> Fourth quarter stats: 45 of 84 (53.6 percent), 563 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 107.36 rating.

By comparison, Morris (both in 2013 and 2012) and Harris (2011) were better in the fourth quarter when they quarterbacked the Canes. Morris was 55 of 91 (60.4 percent) for 830 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs (166.07 QB rating) in 2012.

All 13 of the other quarterbacks mentioned above were also better than Kaaya in the fourth quarter last year. Mariota set the standard with a 197.9 rating in the fourth quarter (39 of 54, 596 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT). Petty, who hardly played in the fourth quarter (6 games), was the lowest among the group with a 125.44 rating (23 of 44, 313 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs).

RED ZONE CLEANUP

The Hurricanes as a team ranked 105th out of 125 teams when it came to scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season. They found paydirt only 24 times in 47 trips (51 percent), a nine percent drop from 2013 when that team averaged four more points (33.8) per game than Kaaya's squad (29.2).

Kaaya's 46.8 completion percentage in the red zone likely played a big factor in that. He was only 29 of 62 with threw three interceptions inside the red zone (Morris combined to throw 3 INTs in his final two seasons at UM).

The only QB mentioned above whose QBR wasn't better than Kaaya's 130.91 rating in the red zone was Petty (129.06). All of them, though, had better completion percentages than Kaaya.

Kessler was an awe-inspiring 45 of 59 (76.3 percent) for 393 yards, 26 TDs and one INT in his red zone trips for an eye-opening 274.25 QB rating in the red zone.

Harris, who was ridiculed most of his career at UM, had a QB rating of 211.89 in the red zone in 2011. He was 18 of 32 for 106 yards, 13 TDs and 1 INT inside the opponents' 20-yard-line.

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