Miami Hurricanes happy about finish, but ‘didn’t get it done’ in 2016

Mark Walton takes a selfie with his teammates after the Russell Athletic Bowl. (Getty Images)
Mark Walton takes a selfie with his teammates after the Russell Athletic Bowl. (Getty Images)

[Richt on Kaaya: ‘Torn’ on NFL decision]

[Kaaya: ‘I’ve got soul-searching to do]

[Njoku declares for NFL draft]

[Hurricanes win Russell Athletic Bowl | Live blog | Photos]

The images of Mark Richt and his players after the Russell Athletic Bowl showed celebration, but certainly not complacency.

Richt and his players enjoyed the victory, the finish to a 9-4 season and Miami’s first bowl win in a decade, but the coach was far from satisfied.


“We didn’t get it done,” Richt said Wednesday night.

Its four-game October losing streak knocked Miami out of both the ACC championship chase and the polls — though given its win over No. 16 WVU, it will surely return in the final rankings. The October slide, because of where the Hurricanes landed, will help fuel players’ offseason training and coaches’ preparation.

Put another way: the Russell Athletic Bowl trophy won’t be displayed in the Schwartz Center lobby. But give credit to the Hurricanes for ending with five wins in a row. Miami hadn’t done that since its national championship year of 2001.

Miami of 2016, at its best, was not an all-timer, by any stretch. Inconsistent. Light on depth. Young. But at its best, a very good team, with a defense that wildly exceeded expectations, and an offense that, at its best, had enough balance and skill to beat quality opponents.

A fine start to Richt’s tenure.

“I wish we would have made an extra point early in the year,” he said, referencing the Oct. 8 loss to Florida State. “That would have been nice. Who knows how things might have changed then, but, you know, that’s part of life.”

That FSU game, a 20-19 loss that was sealed when defensive lineman Demarcus Walker blocked a point-after attempt with 1:38 left, will sting. As will a 20-13 loss to North Carolina, a 30-27 loss at Notre Dame and a 37-16 loss at Virginia Tech.

The Hurricanes ran out of gas in Blacksburg, playing their third game in 12 days without three defensive starters. But those other games could have twisted in myriad ways. To name a few examples, imagine if Miami’s line blocked. If the referee notices UNC’s Austin Proehl bobbling a touchdown pass out of bounds. If Jamal Carter falls on the fumble in South Bend.

The Hurricanes were perfect through four games, and that’s not enough. They can be proud of this one, but perfection is their goal.

“We fought hard,” Richt said. “We’ve got to learn to win the close ones. So that will be important.”

For Richt, the season truly began in December, when he took his first look at his new players practicing for the Sun Bowl.

“I just got to kind of watch, got to meet the guys little by little, and I knew I was going to fall in love with them,” he said. “You love them before you get to know them because that’s just part of your job, but once you get to know their personalities and everything — the relationships to me are very important.

“Strategy and competition kind of got me in the coaching business, but the relationships with these guys is really the most important thing to me now, other than watching them jump in the locker room and win games and championships. I love that too, believe me, but I think it’s — I don’t know. I would call it more of a mission for me than a job.”

He wants his staff to relax with their families and toast to the New Year. Soon after, their mission continues.

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