Stacy Searels, Miami’s gruff offensive line coach, answered questions about his unit’s play against North Carolina in his typically brusque manner, but he seemed reasonably happy about one topic: the play of right tackle Tyree St. Louis, a sophomore who made his first start in place of injured Sunny Odogwu.
“I think Tyree did a heck of a job,” Searels said, his tone softening. “[The] sucker, uh … he did good, especially for his first start, against a good opponent. Did a good job. I think we can all do a lot better, including him.”
Then someone asked for his thoughts on the pass protection. His jaw tightened.
“Did you see the game? Did you watch the last two plays? Not very dang good,” he said.
Searels’ group, which has struggled throughout the season, allowed a strip-sack as Miami tried to drive 80 yards to tie the game in the final two minutes. UNC recovered Brad Kaaya‘s wet-ball fumble to seal the win.
Miami has allowed five sacks in its last two games, after surrendering two in the four before that. In Thursday’s game at Virginia Tech (7 p.m., ESPN), they’ll have to find a way to shut down another talented pass-rusher, senior Ken Ekanem (team-high 4.5 sacks). The Hokies are tied for 21st nationally in tackles for loss (48.0), with outside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (9.0) and Ekanem (5.5) leading the way). Middle linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka is highly active, averaging 9.5 tackles per game.
Searels, who coached the last two seasons at Virginia Tech, won’t be thinking much about reunions with former players and colleagues. He has a lot on his mind.
He said he is sticking with the same starting five (left tackle Trevor Darling, left guard Kc McDermott, center Nick Linder, right guard Danny Isidora and St. Louis). Asked if any backups are challenging for playing time, Searels paused.
“You know, I’d like to get our first five to play together as a cohesive unit right now,” he said.
Coach Mark Richt said this week that Miami doesn’t “have enough depth to start playing musical chairs” up front.
Isidora, whom Searels consistently says is his top performer, will graduate after the season. Darling, McDermott and Linder are juniors who must continue to improve. St. Louis seems to have a bright future at tackle, and Odogwu looks like he will return healthy next season. Beyond that, Miami needs to develop its younger linemen and sign some highly rated recruits. It is selling playing time to five-star Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood, and Navaughn Donaldson, the Hurricanes’ highest-rated commit, and others.
“I think football all goes back to fundamentals and technique,” Searels said, “and if we stick to our fundamentals and technique no matter the situation in the game is, we’ll be successful.”