After Hurricane Irma, Miami Hurricanes’ offense trying to regain timing

UM receiver Ahmmon Richards joins his teammates before Tuesday’s practice. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

[Catching up with UM opponents after Irma]

[Defense prepping for Toledo test]

LAKE BUENA VISTA — At this point in the season, Miami’s offense expected to be rolling along, or something close to it.

Ideally, UM hoped, it would have found its timing and rhythm. New starting quarterback Malik Rosier would have played in three games, including a major test at Florida State. Compared to camp, he would be sharper. Receivers would be crisper in their routes. Linemen would be stronger on their blocks.

Instead, Rosier spent a few days last week in Orlando throwing to a handful of teammates in a hotel courtyard. There were no defenders present. Well, sort of. As they jogged through routes, Rosier’s receivers — Mike Harley, Ahmmon Richards, Dionte Mullins, DeeJay Dallas, Mark Walton and others — had to dodge children who were playing nearby.

In addition to makeshift practices on that patch of artificial grass, they talked, studied their playbook and game film, and watched a full slate of games the last two weeks.

Sounds nice? Sure. But they’re supposed to be playing games in mid-September.

“From a football standpoint,” senior Braxton Berrios said, “it was frustrating to say the least.”

Saturday’s game against Toledo (3:30 p.m., ACC regional networks) is a chance for a Rosier-led offense to work out whatever kinks are left, before ACC play begins next Friday at Duke. The clash with Florida State, rescheduled from Sept. 16, is the week after.

Toledo, which beat Tulsa 54-51 last week, is allowing 5.46 yards per play (71st nationally). That’s due in large part to a permissive run defense. Rockets opponents are averaging 5.0 yards per carry (112th) and 220 yards per game (116th). Toledo has allowed three carries of 30-plus yards; at this point in the season, 14 teams have given up more.

That’s good news for running backs Walton and Travis Homer, who combined for 251 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in UM’s 41-13 win over Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 2. Rosier had 41 yards on four carries.

Toledo’s pass defense has been stingier. Opposing quarterbacks have registered a 47.9 percent completion rate (16th) and 104.68 passer rating (29th). The Rockets do appear somewhat susceptible to the deep ball, having given up five passes of 30-plus yards (84th).

Miami is the only Power 5 team on the Rockets’ schedule, which includes wins over FCS Elon (47-13) and Nevada (37-24) of the Mountain West Conference.

Since he was one of several dozen players who rode out the storm in Orlando, Rosier stuck close to quarterbacks coach Jon Richt. During the team’s 10-day break from practice, the quarterback said he “watched a lot of film” and “talked ball basically the whole time.” He feels his fundamentals have improved, giving him more confidence to attack Toledo’s defense.

“From what I can tell, they’re a really good football team,” Rosier said. “They’re going to challenge us one-on-one. They’re going to try to get free hitters in the box. We’ve just got to win our one-on-one battles. That’s what it comes down to. … Their offense is very explosive. At any moment they can go down the field and score. It’ll be a really good test for our defense, and for us from an adversity standpoint.”

Rosier said he and his receivers were a little off when they returned to full-speed practice on Saturday, but now, he said, “I’m hitting them on target. They’re running full-speed. Their legs feel good.”

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said the return to practice has “been huge for all of us,” he said. “We’re thankful that nobody’s homes were decimated,” by the storm, “nobody’s life was lost on our staff or our players and their families.

“Coming back, not knowing what kind of shape we’d be in, where the guys would be mentally, I think it’s been great so far to see those guys be focused and work their butts off.”

Rosier, Brown said, “has handled it well. .. He’s had the same personality no matter what happens around him. He doesn’t panic much.”

With Irma bound for South Florida, Berrios, a Raleigh, N.C. native, escaped to his family’s home. Then he ventured north to New York as the storm threatened to move up the East Coast. Once that threat ended, he returned home, then met his teammates in Orlando.

Quite a trip.

Saturday, he’ll be glad to call Hard Rock Stadium home again.

“[Irma] hit a lot of people pretty tragically, especially in the islands,” said Berrios, who is of Puerto Rican descent and has family in Miami. “Luckily Miami missed the brunt of it. We’re the Miami Hurricanes. We wear that on our chest, and we wear the ‘U’ on the side of the helmet. It means a lot to have Miami behind us, and we want to be behind Miami.”

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