BLACKSBURG, Va. — Quite the stretch for Miami, which lost its third game in 12 days Thursday night at Virginia Tech, and now has a few extra days to lick its wounds before playing next Saturday at Notre Dame.
A few takeaways from a 37-16 loss:
It could get worse before it gets better.
With their Coastal hopes all but dashed, Miami now has to fight to make sure this isn’t a losing season. The Hurricanes are 4-3 with a boatload of injuries — and judging by the way safety Rayshawn Jenkins’ leg bent, it seems they would be exceedingly fortunate if he can play this week.
Notre Dame is down (2-4) but a road trip to South Bend will be challenging. Pittsburgh comes to town the week after, with offensive and defensive lines that can pound teams. Two road games in a row after that (Virginia and North Carolina State, which have two combined ACC losses). Even the finale, at home against Duke, looks harder after the way the Blue Devils nearly pulled off an upset at Louisville last week.
Given the way Miami is playing — mental mistakes, dropped passes, penalties — and its depth issues, it’s hard to see the Hurricanes running the table from here. Even 8-4 seems like a highly positive outcome.
Richt is nearing uncharted waters.
Miami has lost three in a row for the first time since losing the final four of 2014 to fall to 6-7. Mark Richt knows what that feels like: his 2010 Georgia team started 1-4, with four losses in a row after an opening win, and had to claw back to finish 6-7.
That was the only time as a player, assistant coach or head coach Richt was part of a team that lost four games in a row. Suffice to say he doesn’t want to experience it again.
His 145-51 record in 15 years at Georgia included five seasons where he lost four or more games, but he only that had that one four-game skid. Miami, meanwhile, lost four in a row in 2006, 2007 and 2014 and three in a row in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.
In Richt’s 15 years as a Florida State assistant, the Seminoles lost three games in a season twice: 1985 (9-3) and 1986 (7-4-1), his first two years as a graduate assistant. He’s not used to this.
Miami has good players, just not enough of them.
Richt is realistic about his rebuilding project. He’s not going anywhere. He has coached seven games at his alma mater, and hopes to retire there. But it will likely take a few recruiting classes to get the roster at a contending level.
The Hurricanes have a good, young defensive front seven, all of whom will return next year. They have nice pieces at quarterback and the skill positions. They have “guys we want,” as an NFC scout said before the game. But beyond the starters, at most positions, the depth drops off sharply. Blame attrition in the Al Golden era (and last summer) for the situation Miami is in: its first-stringers — the healthy ones, anyway — are playing a lot, and UM doesn’t have enough capable players behind them when they need a break.
Replacing most of the secondary and overhauling the offensive line are the major goals this recruiting cycle, and Miami needs to add depth at receiver.
The Hurricanes still cannot protect their QB.
Brad Kaaya sank into a folding chair after the game, emitting a sound that was a cross between a sigh and a groan. He was sore, he said, quickly adding that everyone was sore. He was likely more pained than most. The eight sacks he took were double his previous worst (four), and more than double the six-game season total (seven) Miami had coming in.
The offensive line was not good, but Kaaya ran into one sack and couldn’t find anyone to throw to on others. He took the blame afterward, but added it’s spread around equally. Richt agreed, and blamed himself for not coaching Kaaya correctly rather than spotlight the offensive line. You can blame Miami’s lack of offensive success on the fact its quarterback keeps looking up at the lights.
UM still cannot run the ball.
The Hurricanes’ 42-yard, 29-carry outing was its worst of the year. Removing lost sack yardage, Miami rushed for 97 yards on 20 carries, which isn’t bad until you remember 41 of those came on a Joe Yearby rush in the fourth quarter. Too many runs went nowhere on the early downs, leaving the Hurricanes in third-and-longs they didn’t convert. What Miami is doing in the run game isn’t working. Richt has to figure it out.
He has a lot to figure out.