MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Even personnel changes, including a notable one early in Nebraska’s 36-33 overtime loss to Miami on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, couldn’t plug leaks in the Husker secondary.
Miami’s Brad Kaaya easily zipped the Hurricanes downfield on their first two possessions, each resulting in touchdowns for a 14-0 lead.
The sophomore quarterback targeted Nebraska cornerback Daniel Davie early and often, including on a 38-yard reception on the second drive.
Obviously, these secondary concerns early in the season — the Blackshirts have allowed more than 300 yards passing in all three games after Kaaya finished with 379 — can’t be hung entirely on Davie.
Yet defensive coordinator Mark Banker saw his senior struggle for a third straight game, and pulled him.
“He’s fighting it,” Banker said matter-of-factly. “I don’t know. He came off after that first series and had a bad look in his face and then gave up another deep inside route. That was it. We just shut him down, let him gather himself together.
“It doesn’t make him a bad person,” Banker said. “He’s just struggling right now, and you hate to see that. So we just need to go back to the drawing board and just work on it in practice.”
The changes including putting cornerback Jonathan Rose in with the base defense and using Chris Jones in nickel packages, along with Joshua Kalu and Rose, although Davie did return for a play or two when Jones left momentarily with injury.
Kaaya finished 25-of-42 for 379 yards and two touchdowns, a year after going 28-of-42 for 359 yards against Nebraska in Lincoln.
“He makes good, quick decisions and threw, early on, some real nice, quick, play-action passes that moved our linebackers and isolated our secondary, and they made their plays,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “He appeared to play very confidently to me, and like I said, his decision-making, we couldn’t get him to pull the ball down or throw him off his rhythm for a long time.”
Simply put, Kaaya found his isolated player and won by completing passes. Some, Riley said, were inside, like on slants, including an inside receiver on a slant, with strong play-action and good, short passing.
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Another isolation involved double moves on the outside, also which Nebraska couldn’t contain early.
“They know what they want to go to when you give them a certain look,” Banker said of the Hurricanes. “But you know it's a big thing for us right now, all the way back to the first game, and it was in our scrimmages, too. We have some really good spots and play well. It’s not an intermediate play or a short play, it’s a big play that’s been bothering us right now. We need to eliminate that, the big play.”
Nebraska generated little pass rush on Kaaya, sacking him once, a 12-yard drop by defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun, who started a second straight game in place of the injured Jack Gangwish.
“Basically, we didn’t execute,” Nebraska defensive end Greg McMullen said. “We didn’t do the things we’re supposed to do, we’re not doing the things we do in practice. That obviously hurt us with big plays, and them getting off to a hot start.”
Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey said watching the film would be tough Sunday.
“We hurt ourselves,” Rose-Ivey said. “We came out flat, offensively, defensively, special teams, too. It hurt us in the end. We couldn’t get out of our own way. It’s frustrating, because that seems to be our own nemesis at times, is ourselves.”
Personnel changes and halftime adjustments did help some, forcing five Miami field goals, all of which the Hurricanes made, including Michael Badgley's 28-yarder to win in overtime.
Hey, it’s some solace on a day the Blackshirts weren’t their best.
“Those guys could’ve gone in the tank, but I tell you what, I give it to those guys,” Banker said. “They stayed with it, they believe. They took it personal. Everybody wanted to do their job and do it well.
“We fought to the end and it just didn’t work out. But it’s not acceptable, and we need to correct it soon.”