Short-yardage, red-zone and third-down struggles hampering unbeaten Miami Hurricanes

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – OCTOBER 14: The Miami Hurricanes line up against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during a game at Sun Life Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

[Bowl projections entering Week 9]

[Miami’s OL has its own type of ‘Turnover Chain’]

[To make Playoff, Miami may need to go unbeaten]

Thomas Brown was a tailback at Georgia when Mark Richt‘s teams dominated with a power run game. Richt hasn’t changed his style since. How close are the Hurricanes to imposing their will in that way?

“We’re not even close,” said Brown, Richt’s offensive coordinator and running backs coach.

Miami has been productive through the air, but Richt wants balance.  Their inconsistent running game — especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations — was a major reason UM lost four games in a row last year, and is a concern entering a make-or-break November.

In three October games — all close wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Syracuse — Miami ranks 77th nationally in yards per carry (3.36). Last October, when Miami went 1-4 with four losses in a row, the Hurricanes were 127th of 128 FBS teams (2.42).

Miami’s offensive line has improved since then, and Richt and his staff has a better handle on its players. But UM also had three available running backs then. The run game now consists of Travis Homer and quarterback Malik Rosier. 

Brown feels the Hurricanes move the ball well when Miami “has more grass, has more space. In the red zone and goal line, we struggle.”

The numbers back him up, painting a picture of a team doing just enough to score. In its last three games, Miami has taken 12 trips inside its opponents’ 20-yard line. It has scored every time — seven field goals, five touchdowns — but its frustration has mounted.

“We’re getting too many field goals,” Rosier said. “As much I love Badge [Michael Badgley] and watching him kick field goals, I’d rather it be a PAT instead of a three-pointer.”

In the red zone this month:

* UM has gained 37 yards on 13 carries (2.84), not including Rosier’s 4-yard loss on a slide to set up a winning field goal against Georgia Tech. Mark Walton, lost for the season on Oct. 7, had two of UM’s three first downs.

* Rosier is 7-for-14 for 66 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t bad — especially considering big plays, like Jeff Thomas‘ 70-yard catch against Georgia Tech, Darrell Langham‘s fourth-and-10 grab for 28 yards and Ahmmon Richards’ 32-yard catch at FSU, put Miami in the red area. Langham’s 23-yard winning touchdown against the Seminoles, while not technically in the red zone, is a clear-cut example of production when it counts.

But Miami wants more, especially considering it sees the same root of its third-down problems. UM is 12-for-42 on third down in its last three games — 28.57 percent — which ranks 112th nationally. That is also Miami’s season-long ranking on third down. UM was 99th last year, and 125th in its woeful October.

“Me against you, we’re just getting too many stalemates,” Brown said. “Even from a tailback standpoint, we can be more physical. We don’t have the biggest guys in the world, but they do a good job.” Homer’s “reads are always clean,” Brown said, but he needs to “finish full-speed in the goal line area. You’ve got to whip somebody’s butt.

“We’ve got to execute better. It’s not a play-calling deal. It’s not bad design. It’s just me-against-you, one-on-one, drop a ball, get beat on a block, not running a guy over, not making a guy miss, wrong read by a quarterback. All of those things add to our struggles not scoring touchdowns in the red zone.”

[Related: Richards on his injuries, inconsistency]

The line is better this year, but has been so-so overall. Searels found a gem in true freshman right guard Navaughn Donaldson, but he hasn’t played since spraining his ankle Oct. 7 against Florida State. True freshman Corey Gaynor and a 2015 signee, Hayden Mahoney are learning on the job.

Senior left tackle Kc McDermott has been UM’s best offensive lineman, and helped spring Homer for a 33-yard touchdown that sealed last week’s win over Syracuse. Right tackle Tyree St. Louis and center Tyler Gauthier have been solid, but not dominant. They were part of a 2015 class that has yielded little else. UM’s hopes rest in the 2017 and future classes.

After losing Marquez Williams to graduation, Richt has tried Gaynor at fullback, but last week swapped him for walk-on Michael Parrott. Tight end Michael Irvin II has been in his doghouse, so Richt had to use converted defensive end Scott Patchan in UM’s goal-line package last week.

On a first-quarter sequence, he even tried Richards as an H-back, asking him to throw a cut block on a Homer run that went nowhere. Georgia Tech “pretty much stoned us,” Richt said. Two plays later, Richards, Miami’s best wideout, dropped a touchdown pass that would have made the red-zone numbers look better.

“We’re frustrated as coaches,” Richt said. “I know the players are. We just have to get more movement. We have to run better. We have to get behind our pads. If we do throw the ball, we have to put it in play and guys have to hang onto it.

“If you score from a distance, that helps. You don’t even have to mess with the red-zone stuff.”

Elsewhere:

* Homer was the only back who took a carry last week. How close is UM to trusting Homer’s backups with key carries? Trayone Gray has two carries in the last four games, and six this season. DeeJay Dallas hasn’t carried yet.

Brown said last week UM went more empty-backfield, four-wide. Gray (6-2, 230) is not a split-out back.

“I have confidence in Trayone, situation-wise and knowing what to do,” Brown said. “He knows pass-protection. He does a pretty good job in the run game. Obviously, DeeJay has a long way to go when it comes to pass protection. Syracuse is a huge pressure team. They did it on first and second down. We couldn’t afford to have a pick, a turnover.”

More Canes over here

[Miami-Virginia Tech: ACC waits to announce kickoff]

[UM’s national title odds dropping fast]

[Injured star Walton inspires teammates]

[Richt: Canes ‘not foolish enough to think we’ve arrived]

[Irvin II off scout team]

[Pinckney, Herndon honored by ACC]

[How to fix Richards’ drops; Jeff Thomas elite?]

[Pinckney: ‘Everybody is doubting us’]

[Irvin suspended; Richt’s day-after comments]

[North Carolina a chance for UM to find consistency]

[Longest UM win streak in 15 years | 8th in polls]

 

 

 

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