Miami Hurricanes’ offensive performance not going according to script

Mark Richt during the fourth quarter of the Miami-Florida State game in 2016. (Getty Images)

Mark Richt during the fourth quarter of the Miami-Florida State game in 2016. (Getty Images)

[Miami-UNC video preview]

[UM D knows UNC O will be better this week]

[Kaaya returns | Odogwu out | Thomas ailing]

[Five things we learned from FSU 20, Miami 19]

[Canes could get green, black alternate uniforms]

[Miami’s depth chart, broken down by snap counts]

Mark Richt held up a laminated, color-coded sheet that detailed every phase, every play, every minute of practice.

“I told the offense, ‘Here’s the script,'” he said Wednesday. “We’re going to run these plays, and we’re going to run them right. If you don’t, we’ll run them again. If we don’t get them done in time, we’ll run them after practice or early tomorrow. If we have to go to school, we’ll do it at a time when there’s no responsibilities.’”

Richt, Miami’s head coach and play-caller, hasn’t been happy with his team’s offensive performance through five games. Sure, the 16th-ranked Hurricanes (4-1, 1-1 ACC) averaged 47 points and 474 yards per game in their first four outings, but UM loss to Florida State — 19 points scored, 276 yards gained — served as further confirmation that the ease of execution it often enjoyed earlier was mostly because of inferior competition.

He saw the signs. While Florida State is by far the most talented team Miami has played to this point — and may be the best program it faces all year — Richt wants more from his players, as he adjusts the plays.

He told them Wednesday “that everybody in America has to make a decision about whether you’re going to get better or get worse today, whether you survive the day or you thrive today – what’s it going to be?” he said. “You’ve got to choose. This game is about players. Coaching matters, but they’re the ones who got to do it, got to want it, got to care enough. I’m trying to make them understand that.”

So he made them stay after practice Tuesday and Wednesday, with hopes they’d get it right. “It’s not the first time in the history of college football that’s happened,” he said.

Miami’s main weakness is its offensive line, which struggled last year and was beat regularly by FSU’s talented defensive front. Quarterback Brad Kaaya was sacked three times, took several hits to the head, and is dealing with a shoulder injury this week, all of which chafes the hide of offensive line coach Stacy Searels. 

“We’re a work in progress right now,” said Searels, who will replace injured starting right tackle Sunny Odogwu (leg surgery) with sophomore backup Tyree St. Louis. “There’s some adjustments going on. We didn’t play good enough to win the ball game. There were some great battles. I don’t question kids’ effort.”

A lack of protection — from the offensive line, tight ends and running backs assigned to block — has slowed Miami’s run game and stunted Kaaya’s ability to throw downfield. A dig into numbers compiled by analyst Daniel Gould shows how Miami’s offense sputtered.

Multiple runs against Florida State were blown up in the backfield, as FSU’s speed and physicality overwhelmed UM’s line and shut down the run. Mark Walton and Joe Yearby, who rank No. 5 and No. 8 among ACC ball-carriers in rushing yards per game, each produced two rushes of longer than 4 yards. The longest, a Yearby gain off a run-pass option in the first quarter, went for 12 yards.

Unlike previous games, when they broke tackles and juked defenders with regularity, neither Yearby and Walton gained more than four yards after contact on any run. They combined to do that 25 times in their previous four games. Yearby was the only UM back to force a missed tackle, which he did as he tried to get out of the Hurricanes’ backfield (he was tackled for a 1-yard loss). He and Walton combined to force 58 missed tackles in the previous four games.

Of course, those numbers don’t take into account Walton’s spectacular 45-yard touchdown, which was called back because of a holding penalty on St. Louis.

The deep ball? Denied. On passes of 20-plus yards against Florida State, Kaaya was 1-for-4, with the only completion a 21-yard touchdown to Stacy Coley. He also threw an end-zone interception on an ill-advised 18-yard pass.

On attempts of 20-plus yards this season, Kaaya is 6-of-15 for 270 yards, with two touchdowns. Most of the success came against lower-tier programs Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State. Kaaya’s receivers, physical mismatches for those teams, caught 4-of-7 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown. Georgia Tech, and to a greater extent, FSU, rushed Kaaya more effectively and covered better downfield.

Richt mentioned after the game he would likely call more two-back power runs, and fewer single-back run-pass option plays. He admitted he needs to tweak his strategy. He also needs his offensive line to do its job. He needs his quarterback, who looked like his usual self throwing the ball in practice this week, to be healthy.

Looking on the bright side, North Carolina has surrendered 30 or more points to all four Power Five teams it has faced, and is the only one of 128 FBS teams which hasn’t intercepted a pass. Perhaps Miami can prove it isn’t trending downward, and that the unflattering numbers of the last two weeks won’t remain a part of the script.

Reader Comments 0

0 comments