Tech’s defense faces another challenging QB in Miami’s Kaaya

A week after having mixed success against arguably the best quarterback in college football, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech will face another challenge in trying to stop Miami deep-ball specialist Brad Kaaya on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“When you are facing a quarterback like Brad Kaaya or Deshaun Watson, you can’t make a lot of mistakes,” Tech safety Corey Griffin said.

Watson completed 32-of-48 passes for 304 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in Tech’s 26-7 loss. He also rushed 12 times for 36 yards.

Kaaya isn’t a running threat because he does most of his damage with his arm. He has completed 50-of-76 passes for 694 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions this season. He is averaging 9.13 yards per attempt and 13.88 per completion with a long pass of 62 yards.

Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he can see from watching Kaaya in wins against Appalachian State, Florida Atlantic and Florida A&M that he has improved compared to last year. Kaaya was especially impressive in the win over the defensively stout Mountaineers in Boone, N.C., completing 21 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns.

“Sees the field well, delivers the ball well,” Roof said. “He understands how defenses try to attack him and does a good job delivering the ball into the voids in the coverage. He runs a really good operation.”

Like Watson, Kaaya has had success against Tech’s defense in past meetings. Playing in a different offense than the one used by new coach Mark Richt, Kaaya threw for 300 yards on just 16 completions in last year’s 38-21 Hurricanes’ win. He threw for 245 yards on 16 completions in Tech’s 28-17 win in 2014.

To try to slow him down on Saturday, Roof said Tech must do a good job of disguising what it is trying to do. Because Kaaya has two-plus years of experience, there’s not much he hasn’t seen. Plus, there’s not one play Tech can call that can stop everything Miami might try.

“He’s awfully salty,” Roof said. “I don’t think you will fool him a bunch. We must be able to affect the quarterback with our pass rush, no matter how many people are involved in it.”

Tech’s pass rush is still a work in progress with just five sacks this season, so it seems unlikely that the Yellow Jackets will be able to affect him with that tactic. Making the challenge more difficult, Kaaya is surrounded by two solid running backs in Mark Walton (8.4 yards per carry) and Joseph Yearby (7.3 yards per carry), large receivers in Ahmmon Richards (22.6 yards per catch) and Stacy Coley (12.4 yards per catch), a playmaking tight end in David Njoku (19 yards per catch) and an offensive line that has allowed just two sacks.

The good news for Tech is that it has done an OK job preventing long passes this season.

With one exception that Griffin said was the result of a missed call, Tech’s defense didn’t let Watson and Clemson’s receivers get past them. Watson’s longest throw was 28 yards, with two others of at least 20 yards.

Those stats tell the story of Tech’s pass defense this season. While it is giving up a high percentage of passes (64.7), it’s not allowing many impactful plays. Tech has allowed nine pass plays of at least 20 yards, but none have gone more than 32 yards. Opponents are averaging 6.4 yards per pass and 9.9 yards per catch as part of 218.2 yards per game.

Those stats are encouraging for Tech fans for what their team will likely see on Saturday.

“It’s deep ball headquarters,” Roof said. “They will take a bunch of deep shots every week. They are going to.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.