No stat tells a complete story. But cobbled together, chopped up and digested, the numbers show clear progress for the Hurricanes in their first season under Mark Richt.
They had the same record (8-4, 5-3 ACC) as last year, but for the most part, looked better getting there. Miami made gains on offense, but its most impressive jumps came on defense, where it rose significantly in every national category but one (interceptions).
By nearly every common statistical measure, Miami was better in 2016.
In advance of its bowl game — to be announced Sunday — a deep dive into how Miami fared during the 2016 regular season shows the largest improvement on defense. The Hurricanes improved mightily against the run and in the red zone, owing to the aggressive system installed by new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
It’s remarkable UM improved as much as it did given the fact it started three true freshmen linebackers the entire season — a program first, and the only team nationally to do so — and played as many as six true freshmen in critical situations. Five true freshmen on defense earned starts, because of preseason dismissals, attrition and a rash of injuries.
Miami was also appreciably better in rushing, and boosted its point-scoring and big-play capabilities.
Settle in as we assess every major statistical category, see how Miami did, and put the numbers into context with a season’s worth of observations.
Note: All stats are from CFBStats.com. I prefer per-play averages, rather than per-game averages, as a measure of efficiency and prowess. Also, last year’s stats include those from Miami’s bowl game, which is another reason why per-game averages are better than raw numbers.
WHERE MIAMI IMPROVED
in the national rankings of the 128 FBS teams
Rushing yards per carry allowed +94 spots
Tackles for loss +91
Red-zone defense +77
Yards per play allowed +74
Points allowed +63
Rushing yards per carry +57
Kick return average +53
Punt return average +46
Long offensive plays +35
Points scored +34
Punting average +22
Passer rating +16
Third-down offense +14
Long defensive plays +11
Third-down defense +10
Red-zone offense +7
Passer rating allowed +4
WHERE MIAMI REGRESSED
Tackles for loss allowed -35
Sacks allowed -28
Field goal kicking -13
Turnover margin -5
This year: 37th – 34.6 points
Last year: 71st (27.8)
Brad Kaaya, who was recruited to play in James Coley’s system, seemed to get more comfortable in Mark Richt’s scheme as the season wore on. He was not protected well for most of it, but was able to find his playmakers regularly. UM scored more than its opponent’s season-average points allowed total six of 12 times. It averaged 29.4 points in ACC games (sixth of 14 teams). Generally, Miami was better than average offensively; it had its way with weaker teams but couldn’t score 20 against Florida State, North Carolina or Virginia Tech. And like 2015, it attempted too many field goals — 25, the sixth-most nationally.
This year: 55th (4.72 yards per carry)
Last year: 112th (3.68)
Second-worst in the ACC to fifth-best. That’s good. Mark Walton, Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards got rolling in some games, and were tough to stop. Like the rest of the offense, they struggled in October.
This year: 32nd (147.08 passer rating)
Last year: 48th (136.29)
We use passer rating here, rather than pure yardage, because it takes into account several major passing categories (yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions). Kaaya didn’t light up the ACC, as many thought he would under Richt, but he fared well. Also, 8.4 yards per attempt (tied with North Carolina and Arkansas for 18th) shows Miami’s big-play ability.
Yards per play
This year: 22nd (6.52)
Last year: 48th (5.91)
Miami’s pass-heavy attack (almost a 3-to-2 pass-to-run yardage ratio) thrived on big plays, which boosted this number. As a result, UM’s time of possession stats were not impressive. The Hurricanes ranked 105th in that category. Of Miami’s 67 scoring drives, three lasted longer than five minutes, and 12 went longer than three minutes.
This year: 93rd (37.11)
Last year: 107th (34.97)
A slight improvement, but still a weak area. Generally, Miami’s offense prefers to go down the field with big plays rather than long marches, but you’ve still got to convert third downs at a better rate than this.
When it went for it on fourth-downs, Miami was 6-for-12, which was middle-of-the-pack (T-62nd).
This year: T-77th (82.35)
Last year: 84th (81.67)
Not great. When it did score, Miami scored touchdowns 58.82 percent of the time, a figure that ranked in the bottom third of 128 FBS teams. A pair of end-zone interceptions hurt UM’s efforts in this category.
T-41st in scrimmage plays of 10-plus yards (184 of 793 plays)
T-37th in 20-plus (65)
T-14th in 30-plus (37)
T-17th in 40-plus (21)
T-14th in 50-plus (12)
T-14th in 60-plus (7)
T-17th in 70-plus (4)
T-25th in 80-plus (1)
T-15th in 90-plus (0)
56th in plays of 10-plus yards (187 of 873 plays)
32nd in 20-plus (74)
T-22nd in 30-plus (36)
T-41st in 40-plus (17)
T-71st in 50-plus (6)
T-97th in 60-plus (2)
T-110th in 70-plus (0)
T-61st in 80-plus (0)
T-23rd in 90-plus (0)
Clearly a more explosive offense this year, with Ahmmon Richards and David Njoku having breakout seasons and Walton taking over as the starting back. Had half as many 50-plus plays last year, and UM has one more game to add to that total.
Breaking that down further:
Miami finished a respectable 30th in rushing plays of 40-plus yards (seven), after finishing 85th in that category last year (three). Its longest rush of last year was Braxton Berrios’ 60-yard reverse in the Sun Bowl. This year, it was Walton’s 80-yard touchdown against Appalachian State.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes had one of the most explosive passing attacks in the country, ranking T-13th in 50-plus plays (eight). They had five last year, which was T-40th.
(A note on the “+35” figure from the opening section: to get that number, I took the average of Miami’s movement in the rankings in each of the big-play categories. I did the same for defense.)
Sacks and tackles for losses allowed
This year: 62nd in sacks allowed (2.0 per game), 43rd in TFL (5.33 per game)
Last year: 34th in sacks allowed (1.46 per game), eighth in TFL (4.39)
A regression up front, clearly, but it can be mostly traced to one four-game losing in October. Miami allowed 18 of its 24 sacks in games against Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The offensive line, and the Hurricanes, struggled in the first three of those games, all of which came in a 12-day stretch. The defense mostly held up through the first two, while the offense sputtered through the first three-and-a-half (you’ll remember the second-half comeback against Notre Dame).
This year: 14th (18.9 points per game)
Last year: 77th (28.2)
Everyone in Coral Gables is encouraged by this. Miami’s defense held 11 of 12 opponents under their season scoring average and gave up 30 points twice. Its worst performance on defense was against Virginia Tech, when Miami played its third game in 12 days and was missing three defensive starters. UM allowed a season-high 37 points to the Hokies, which averaged 35.
This year: 21st (3.51 yards per carry allowed)
Last year: 115th (5.26)
The Hurricanes’ most drastic improvement. That 3.51 mark is Miami’s best since at least 2008 (UM’s YPC against was surprisingly good in its 6-7 season of 2014, when it allowed 3.58. Then again, it had a host of NFL-bound players on that defense).
This year: 32nd (120.78 opponent passer rating)
Last year: 36th (119.17)
Miami should be patting itself on the back for this one. Given the turnover and youth on defense, especially in the secondary, to hold its position in this category is a major achievement.
Miami was 38th in passes defended per game (4.75), and could have had several more interceptions if it was able to hold onto the ball (Diaz said recently it seemed like his team “[dropped] an interception per game”).
Yards allowed per play
This year: 13th (4.84)
Last year: 86th (5.78)
Again, a monumental change in the Hurricanes’ defense. The numbers show what you saw on TV: a unit that held Miami in games where its offense struggled, was very good aside from a few busts.
Another measure: opposing punters were busy against Miami, which tied for 27th in punts forced (5.9 per game, 71 total).
This year: T-22nd (2.75 per game)
Last year: T-64th (2.00)
A major jump. Miami’s best total (33) since 2010, when it had 37. If it draws a bowl opponent that can’t protect its quarterback, it could add a few more.
Tackles for loss
This year: fifth (8.25 per game)
Last year: 96th (5.08)
A remarkable improvement, and another reason Diaz was nominated for the Broyles Award (top assistant coach). UM’s best total (99) since 2010, when it led the nation with 115.
This year: 83rd (0.67 per game)
Last year: 23rd (1.15)
Miami lost playmaking corners in Artie Burns (the ACC’s interception leader) and Tracy Howard, and Corn Elder returned as the only experienced corner. The secondary got help from a much-improved pass rush. There were plenty of dropped would-be interceptions (and in Jamal Carter’s case, ones a toe-length shy of counting, in the end zone). It’s also worth noting Miami was tied for 38th in pass break-ups per game (4.75), and some of those were from long-limbed linemen with active hands (Chad Thomas, RJ McIntosh, Joe Jackson).
Last year: 57th (38.86 percent)
This year: 67th (39.26).
Sort of average in this category, though slightly improved. Miami held teams to 19.5 first downs per game, which tied for 44th.
Miami allowed 7-of-22 fourth-down conversions (31.82), which ranked ninth.
This year: 34th (78.38 percent of chances turned into points)
Last year: 111th (90 percent)
Another major jump. Not only did Miami rank highly in stops, opponents who entered the Hurricanes’ red zone scored touchdowns less than half the time (48.65 percent, 16th-best). They also held opponents to field goals at the 21st-best rate (29.73 percent).
Big plays allowed
41st in scrimmage plays of 10-plus yards allowed (157 of 880 plays)
49th in 20-plus (52)
T-25th in 30-plus (20)
T-31st in 40-plus (10)
T-34th in 50-plus (5)
T-5th in 60-plus (1)
T-23rd in 70-plus (1)
T-1st in 80-plus (0)
T-1st in 90-plus (0)
T-84th in scrimmage plays of 10-plus yards (188 of 911 plays)
T-71st in 20-plus (61)
T-77th in 30-plus (29)
T-19th in 40-plus (9)
T-20th in 50-plus (4)
T-18th in 60-plus (2)
T-21st in 70-plus (1)
T-1st in 80-plus (0)
T-1st in 90-plus (0)
Last year, Miami did a good job limiting long-range plays – owing in large part to a veteran secondary – but got dinked-and-dunked underneath quite a bit. Replacing a passive, read-and-react scheme with an aggressive, get-upfield system helped. Better tackling, often with a gang of Hurricanes surrounding the ballcarrier, played a major role. Last year, Miami seemed much more likely to allow a 4-yard play to become a 14-yard play. The stats back that up.
Breaking that down more: UM allowed two rushes of 40-plus yards (T-16th) and none longer than 60 (one of 33 teams). Miami was statistically better at limiting passing plays of 10-39 yards, but a 75-yard touchdown allowed to Pitt’s Jester Weah in a blowout win hurt its stats.
This year: 12th (12.89 yards average)
Last year: 58th (9.0)
Always a tricky stat because so many punts are not returnable. But Berrios breaking a pair for 40-plus (including one in crunch time against Florida State) helped the average. Miami was one of 20 teams to with two or more 40-plus punt returns.
Miami allowed 20 punt returns (87th), which suggests its coverage could be better (or teams were bold enough to try). However, teams gained 7.9 yards per return, which ranked 63rd. UM allowed three returns longer than 20 yards, one longer than 30 and none longer than 40. In 2015, they allowed a pair of 60-yarders and a 70-yarder.
This year: 52nd (21.25 average)
Last year: 105th (19.17)
Fourth-fewest returned kicks (20) in the country, so if you’re thinking we didn’t get to see much of Malcolm Lewis returning kicks, you’re right. Can’t say Miami was a major threat in this department; just two returns went for 30-plus yards, and none longer than 34.
Miami was poor in kick returns allowed (113th), letting up an average of 23.74 per runback. A 100-yard kick return by Pitt sophomore Quadree Henderson sullied those numbers. Take that away, and Miami would rank 80th or so. Lesson learned for next year: don’t kick to Henderson (he had three touchdowns this year, a school record).
This year: 16th (43.78)
Last year: 38th (42.48)
Hard to be dissatisfied with either figure, since Justin Vogel (or any punter) doesn’t want to outkick his coverage. He can boom them when necessary, and is always accurate. Miami has one of the best punters in the country.
Additionally, only four teams blocked more punts/kicks than Miami (five).
This year: 34th (80 percent made; 20-for-25)
Last year: 21st (83.3; 30-for-25)
In 2015, Michael Badgley went 5-for-5 on two occasions and hit a 57-yarder last year, tying the school record. He also missed a couple chip shots. Same thing this year. Badgley was aces from mid-long range (9-for-9 from 40 to 49 yards; 20-for-20 career) but missed a few short and intermediate kicks (10-for-16 this year from 20 to 39 yards). He went 1-for-2 from 50-plus, hitting a 51-yarder and missing from 50.
Miami also missed four extra points, one of which was blocked by Florida State to preserve a 20-19 win. So that’s not good. UM didn’t block an extra point (and no opponent missed).
Badgley was 21st in kickoff average (63.52) and 22nd in touchback percentage (58.54), but kicked twice out of bounds (T-51st). For perspective, 14 programs did not kick out of bounds.
This year: 109th (65.6 yards; 105th in penalty flags per game, 7.3)
Last year: 128th (84.2; 128th in penalty flags per game, 9.3)
From the most-penalized team in the country to a team that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot quite as often. Making slow progress, there. Still a big issue. Stacy Coley had 12 penalties by himself, which is astounding for a wide receiver. Personal foul calls were sometimes of the boneheaded variety.
UM drew the 26th-most penalties (6.8) and 39th-most penalty yards per game (57.7), so it’s fair to say games involving the Hurricanes could be chippy.
This year: T-15th (Plus-0.67)
Last year: 10th (Plus-0.85)
Miami’s positive numbers this year were more about taking care of the ball than forcing turnovers. UM ranked 83rd in interceptions (eight) and 65th in takeaways, but lost the sixth-fewest (10), including just three fumbles (only two teams had fewer). The program record for ball security was set in 2009, when Miami lost four.
One game to go. No jinx.