Some quick post-game thoughts, notes and quotes from Saturday's 30-20 win over Virginia Tech:
> KAAYA STEPPING UP: Brad Kaaya's performance was another example he's taking his game to the next level.
After throwing for a career-high 405 yards at Florida State in a tough 29-24 loss, Kaaya finished 19 of 30 for 296 yards and two touchdowns and did a pretty good job evading pressure when Virginia Tech threw it at him. He was sacked only once, but hit countless times.
Receiver Rashawn Scott, who caught both touchdown passes, said Kaaya is getting hit harder lately than he is.
"As a quarterback you've just got to be tough," Kaaya said afterward. "I wear my Kelly Tough shirt for a reason. I wore it today. I had it on last year at Homecoming. You've just got to be tough as a quarterback. As a quarterback there's a lot of things you can critique, but you can't really critique that. You're either tough or you're not. I have to sellout for my guys too. I know the receivers and the offensive line are all going to sell out for me. Joe Yearby is going to sell out on blocks. The receivers are going to lay out for me and I have to sell out and hang in there and make something out of nothing too."
Kaaya's season totals: 134 of 219 for 1,795 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception.
That means he's on pace for 3,590 yards, 20 touchdowns and two interceptions. The 3,590 yards would finish second only to Bernie Kosar's 3,642 yards as UM's single-season record.
> RUNNING GAME STILL FLAT: UM's running game continues to struggle. After being held to 20 yards on 19 carries by FSU last week, UM managed only 99 yards Saturday on 39 attempts, a unsightly 2.5 average. Joe Yearby averaged 3.2 yards per carry and Mark Walton averaged 3.1 yards per carry.
That's not good when you consider Virginia Tech came in with the 97th-ranked run defense in the country.
UM obviously switched things up on its offensive line, inserting Kc McDermott and Joe Brown into the starting lineup for the first time in their careers. They rotated with the previous five starters: Trevor Darling, Alex Gall, Nick Linder, Danny Isidora and Sunny Odogwu. But it's not paying off much.
Kaaya is still getting hit and pressured. He was sacked only once Saturday. But still... this isn't good. Clemson, by the way, came into this weekend ranked 18th in run defense and 40th in sacks (18).
“I feel like we have the right guys We’re rotating the right guys, so I’m going to let them sort it out - who wants to start, who played really well tonight who needs to improve and all that," coach Al Golden said of line. " I feel like we have more guys certainly than we did five or six weeks ago. Kc [McDermott] is really starting to look like himself right now, his conditioning, everything that he’s doing. And Joe [Brown] is making a lot of progress. I’m not disappointed with other guys, we just wanted to continue to push it forward.”
> STACY BEING STACY: Stacy Coley followed up his breakout performance at FSU with a team-leading four catch, 63-yard effort against the Hokies. He also had a 15-yard run on a reverse. That's a good sign.
> STILL GIVING UP EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: Defensively, the Canes didn't look pretty in the explosive plays department, giving up seven plays of 20 yards or more against the Hokies. They came in having given up up 25 plays of 20 yards or more this season (68th). So, they're up to 32 now. Last year, UM gave up 39 plays of 20 yards or (fifth fewest).
Clemson's offense came into this weekend with 28 plays of 20-yards-or-more. That ranks 48th nationally.
> TURNOVER KINGS: The Hurricanes improved to 16-1 in the Al Golden era when forcing three-or-more turnovers. They produced four Saturday -- two interceptions by Artie Burns, one by Juwon Young and a fumble recovery by Trent Harris -- after having none at Florida State and only one at Cincinnati.
The Canes came into the game Saturday ranked third nationally in turnover margin at plus 9. They are at plus-13 now. Western Kentucky entered the weekend leading the nation at plus-13.
> BURNS GOES INTO SEAN TAYLOR TERRITORY: Speaking of Burns, he's first defensive player at UM with five interceptions in a season since Sean Taylor had 10 in 2003. For more context, the entire Hurricanes defense in 2008 only had four, fewest in the nation.
“I’m just trusting my technique," he said when asked why he's having more success with interceptions. "I’ve been working on my craft over the offseason, getting better with ball control and stuff like that, and making plays.”
> LOSING KIRBY, GAINING YOUNG?: Losing leading tackler and defensive captain Raphael Kirby is going to hurt the Canes. But I wouldn't put it past sophomore Juwon Young in being more than capable of filling Kirby's shoes.
He entered the game with 6:54 to go in the third quarter, racked up four tackles and made a key interception that led to a field goal. His teammates seem to have a lot of confidence in him.
"He's going to probably be in the meeting tomorrow right there coaching them boys," receiver Rashawn Scott said of Kirby. "That's one thing -- the person behind him, he coached him real good. We trust him."
Young is pretty confident in himself too.
“I've got to be the captain," Young said. "That’s it. Point, blank, period. I’m the [mike] of the defense. I’m the quarterback of the defense, so I got to give the calls, the checks and all that.”
> PENALTY PROBLEMS: The Canes were flagged nine times for 81 yards in Saturday's win. It continues to be a problem, but Golden said he's left in the hands of his captains to handle from now on.
"That's on us," Kaaya said. "We were on them all week. We still had some penalties today and its something we have to correct. Coaches have already done enough with penalties and showing us film of stuff. At this point its got to be on us. They can't get out there with us and make sure we don't jump off sides. Coach can't run out there with us and say 'Hey Trevor [Darling] don't jump on this play.' It's got to be on us, it's got to be on the captains.
"It's got to be on Nick [Linder], Alex [Gall], on Joe [Yearby], on Stacy [Coley] on Rashawn [Scott], just all the guys on the line on both sides of the ball. That last penalty we had in the red zone, we can't have that. I know Scotty was pumped up. I was pumped up too. But we can't have those in those situations. But we'll go back at it next week."