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Miami Hurricanes

How long can the Miami Hurricanes live on the edge?

Ari Russell

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(Photo by Allen Eyestone/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

On Saturday the Miami Hurricanes yet again played in another game that required refilling your bet blockers prescription. The opponent this week was the Syracuse Orange, who were looking to win back to back games against top 10 teams in school’s history. The Orange played valiantly, but came up short. It took a Travis Homer 33 yard TD run and a defensive stop for the Canes to escape 27-19.

This is the third game in a row where Miami pulled out a close one. The previous two games required last minute comebacks. This one required a late game TD and a defensive hold, but still equally as nerve racking for the fans. One thing that we do know for sure is that Miami is great at late game execution. Seeing how they are able to move the ball down the field when it matters most shows the focus and resilience of this team. But it also opens up some question marks.

This week against UNC it’s unlikely we get a fourth close call. The Tar Heels are struggling this year and unless Miami has a complete breakdown on all levels, they should handle their business going away. UNC is a 20.5 point underdog. A close game would actually be an upset.

The concern won’t be this weekend, but will come when they take on 13th ranked Virginia Tech on November 4th and then 9th ranked Notre Dame on 11/11. In those games they are going to be required to play four quarters of football. Any slip up and these two teams can certainly inflict a lot of damage.

With all this said, the close games and ability to get wins in these tight spots, also reveals something about this team. They are unshakable. A few other things that should ease some concerns which are signs that these close games also have something to do with the effort and systems of their opponents than deficiencies with the Canes.

Ahmmon Richards dropped four passes in the first half on Saturday. The likelihood of that happening again is low and those drops were huge. That was likely more of a result of being rusty nursing that hamstring limiting practice time for several weeks than of something that will be a recurring issue.

The defense is also something that will be keeping them in every single game. Despite giving up yardage, the Canes defense are ballhawks, forcing four turnovers against Syracuse. They were able to sustain somehow on the Orange’s last possession despite enduring over 90 plays. They have stamina and they have depth and they are hungry. This defense will keep all games close despite what the offense is doing.

Perhaps one stat that has been overlooked but certainly a sign of why this team can afford to be in close games is the turnover margin. Miami has forced 12 turnovers on the season and have only given the ball away three times. That’s a 4:1 ratio which is quite impressive. All three giveaways were Malik Rosier interceptions, none of which were too costly or even bad decisions, more like overthrows. The fact they take care of the football certainly is a reason they are 6-0 on the season and 4-0 for the first time in the ACC.

Can the Canes keep up living on the edge? They probably can. In fact they are already battle tested and proven in this area. At this point if the game is on the line, the advantage will have to go to the Canes, despite giving their entire fan base a coronary.

Born in the Nation’s Capital, Washington D.C., Ari Russell watched the rise of the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes and knew that he had to be part of the “U” someday. After graduating from Coral Gables, Ari rose through the ranks of the former XM Satellite Radio and then Sirius/XM as college football executive producer. He later spent 2 seasons as the publisher of the website “Beyond U Sports” focusing on major college football/basketball. Ari brings a great perspective on everything Miami, including the Dolphins to F.F.I.

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Miami Hurricanes

Is Mark Richt coaching for his job next two games?

Florida Football Insiders

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Things have gotten ugly in a hurry in South Florida for third-year hurricanes coach Mark Richt. Remember that it was just 52 weeks ago, that his team had upset #3 Notre Dame in a Saturday night blowout at Hard Rock Stadium to improve 9 – 0 and move into the top five of the college football playoff rankings, themselves..

Then, this weekend a year ago, they defeated Virginia at home in come from behind fashion to improve to 10 – 0 and appear to be in prime position to make the four team playoff.

However, six days after that win over the Cavaliers, Miami came crashing down against a four win Pittsburgh team on Black Friday. And in losing 24 – 14, not only did the Canes hopes of the College Football Playoff go away, but it began a downward spiral that has Richt in serious jeopardy of being fired.

The Hurricanes went on to lose badly to Clemson, although that was not unexpected, in the ACC Championship Game. However, with a month to prepare, they were then beaten by Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin decisively in the Orange Bowl to finish the year 10-3 after being 10-0.

The three game losing streak two left a bad taste in a lot of Hurricane fans and alumni mouths. Still, there was hope that the 2018 team would be much improved, get off to a fast start and erase what happened at the end of Richt’s second season.

That didn’t happen.

LSU hammered Miami in the opening weekend match-up at AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas, 33 – 17. And, that immediately brought the naysayers out that Richt and his staff were overmatched at “the U.”

Yes, Miami got it rolling against Savannah State and Toledo out of the MAC. And, they even defeated Crosstown rival Florida International for a three game win streak.

Then, the Hurricanes opened ACC play on a Thursday night with North Carolina and a 47 – 10 blowout included 6 times that “the turnover chain” was brought out. By the time Miami had roared back from a 20-point deficit against rival Florida State to squeak by 28 – 27, the Canes had won five straight games.

And, everybody was feeling good again about the rest of the ACC slate.

Then, Miami had to play the rest of that slate and they have not registered a single victory.

Losses at Virginia and BC, followed by a humbling defeat at home against Duke and then, a game that they stumbled through in Atlanta with Georgia Tech last week finished 27 – 21. A four game slide that has definitely made 10-0 a year ago a distant memory.

So, Miami goes into their final two ACC games at Virginia Tech Saturday and next Saturday at home with Pitt again, having to try to salvage something.

And the yelling on South Florida sportsradio, and the internet has intensified. More importantly, the disgruntled prominent Miami Hurricane former players and big time boosters have got lots of ammunition, if they’re wanting to see Richt gone.

If you weren’t totaling all of that up above, since losing that Black Friday last year, Richt and his Hurricanes have only won 2 out of 10 games against Power 5 Conference teams. And, those two wins are against North Carolina and Florida State, who are both awful this season.

We are hearing at F.F.I. that the prominent alumni former players of the Hurricanes (of which there are dozens and dozens) are growing louder and louder with wanting to see changes made. You’ve seen some of them popping off on social media over the course of the last month.

Earlier this week, former Canes wide receiver Randal Hill took to Miami sports radio station WQAM and made a vague, bizarre threat to expose things he knew about Mark Richt, if the coach did not make changes in his coaching staff after this season.

Hill was specifically talking about Richt relinquishing the play calling duties to a real offensive coordinator.

Former Miami All-American defensive tackle and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Warren Sapp, didn’t hold back either, after the Duke loss:

There is apparently also a contingent a prominent Miami boosters that are dissatisfied with what they’ve seen at the end of last season and in the middle of this year. And when the people with the big bucks aren’t happy…….

So, that brings us to Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg Virginia against the Hokies. Miami had better be sharp, whether it is redshirt freshman N’kosi Perry back at quarterback or the fifth-year senior, Malik Rosier, the Canes have to have a good performance and a win.

If not, there will be an uprising headed into the final game at home with Pitt and you will hear more and more about how Mark Richt potentially losing the final six games of this season will cause him to be fired. Fired, just one year after being undefeated late and in the playoff picture.

And, the critics are pointing to the losing stats above, where the breaks haven’t been going Miami’s way, and Richt can’t figure out how to stop turnovers, bad penalties, missed tackles and more losing.

Now, If you’re wondering about Richt’s contract, he originally signed a 6-year deal in 2015, but the Canes actually extended that contract earlier this year through the year 2023. Although Miami is a private university and does not have to disclose coaching salary and contract terms, it is believed that Richt is making over $4 million a year. And, the University would have to pay him most or all of what remains on his deal.

That should be in the neighborhood of $20 million dollars, unless something else could be negotiated or there’s an unknown “out clause.”

Would that kind of financial buyout looming be enough to keep Richt around for another season, despite losing out in the final six games of 2018?

Unfortunately for Hurricane fans, we may be about to find out.

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Miami Hurricanes

What must be understood about Miami’s lost 2018 season

Matt Zemek

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Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Three losses. If you told Miami fans The U would lose three games this season, they wouldn’t have been happy… but they wouldn’t have been furious.

A 10-3 season after last year’s… uhhhhhh…

*checks notes*

.. 10-3 season would not have been bad.

Yeah, that’s right — even last year, when Miami returned to prominence and finally won an ACC Coastal Division title, then reaching the Orange Bowl — the Hurricanes lost three times. Yes, one loss was to Clemson. A second loss was to a 13-1 Wisconsin team. Nevertheless, Miami lost three times.

If three losses were all Miami suffered in 2018, it would have been an indication that Mark Richt was on the right track, on the way to sustaining a program.

Three losses? That would have been good… and better than a lot of fans might have first realized.

The problem? Miami has three losses in 2018 before November, not at the end of the full journey. Moreover, the Canes do not appear anywhere close to ready to win at Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech. This looks like a 7-5 team at best, and if the bowl matchup is a nightmare, that’s a 7-6 season, which is pure Al Golden misery The U thought it was about to leave behind.

Not now. Not yet.

The pursuit of sustained, replicated, regularly expected excellence — the fundamental goal at the heart of the 2018 season — led to a dead end in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts Friday night. Boston College ensured that Miami will not play in a good bowl game this year. The Eagles made it highly likely that Miami won’t win the ACC Coastal. The home team in New England plunged a dagger into the idea that this Miami team could turn the corner in any meaningful way.

Now, even if the Canes rally to finish 8-4 or even 9-4, the weak nature of the 2018 ACC Coastal makes it impossible to conclude that Miami has sustained what the 2017 team established. Miami fans have to face the reality that 2018 will not move the program forward. The 2019 season — freighted with even more significance in light of everything which is happening to this program — must be the year in which Richt quiets the grumbling from former Miami players and anyone important inside the program.

It is clear Richt has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust and reestablish Miami as an ACC power.

What is less clear is why this season has been so bad after 2017 was so good.

That’s what I wish to address after Miami lost its sixth game to a Power 5 conference opponent in its last eight outings, dating back to the Pittsburgh loss late last November.

When anyone calls a team “lucky,” fans get upset. I know the drill. I have written about sports for nearly two decades. No one needs to explain why the word “lucky” sets off fans. Here’s the thing, though: Having a great college football season generally requires some luck. Teams can be great and still need — and receive — luck. Being “lucky” doesn’t negate or deny greatness. The great teams make use of luck. The bad teams do nothing with it. THAT’S the difference.

So, when we look back at Miami’s 2017, we have to realize that while the Canes WERE a great team, they received quite a lot of luck at key moments — at Florida State with the late replay touchdown which could have been ruled down at the 1, with the improbable fourth-down completion against Georgia Tech, with a large number of takeaways at just the right time in various games. Noting that 2017 Miami was lucky did not change the reality that the Canes were a great team. That team was independently great on the merits of what it achieved.

Why even bother to mention the breaks last year’s team received, then? Fair question.

This is why it matters: While last year’s team deserved to be seen as great — and not to be stripped of the greatness it attained — it did exist in a different realm of greatness compared to, for example, 2001 Miami or 1987 Miami, the teams which established greatness at its absolute zenith.

There are great teams which dismantle everyone — or almost everyone — and there are great teams which win a bunch of close games, like the 2002 Ohio State team which (aided by an official’s late call) broke Miami’s heart in the Fiesta Bowl. Those 2002 Buckeyes went 14-0, but they won so many of their games without elegance or imposing, overwhelming superiority. Ohio State won the national title, but is there anyone who thinks OSU would have won a majority of games in a best-of-seven series with The U? Not outside of Columbus, Ohio.

That result in Tempe, Arizona was controversial… and also an upset. Why? Miami — though not the definitively better team that night — was great in a way Ohio State wasn’t, and never could be. Those were different levels of greatness. One can’t use a single word and assume it possesses only one form or example.

This is why we measure and microanalyze greatness in fuller and more precise detail. This is why those of us who write or talk about sports assign tiers and categories to the ideas we put forth in every column, podcast or video.

The bottom line with the 2017 Miami team: All those breaks didn’t remove greatness from last year’s Canes, but they did show that in order to remain great Miami could not count on similar luck this year. The Canes would need to be objectively BETTER just to MAINTAIN the same results.

We can see how much Mark Richt has fallen short in that regard. This team hasn’t merely failed to be better. It hasn’t even been equally good. It has sharply regressed.

We saw why on Friday in New England.

I’m not going to go through all the little details of this game. The biggest thing to point out about this mess you saw against Boston College is that it came AFTER AN OFF WEEK.

Yes, after a chance to rest, regroup and refocus, Miami delivered that clunker in Chestnut Hill. It wasn’t any one man or any one unit, either. It was the pass protection allowing edge rushes to create turnovers and sacks. It was the run game being unable to blow open holes in the red zone. It was a passing game which couldn’t hit downfield plays. It was a defense which didn’t show up until the second quarter started.

It was Malik Rosier (above) throwing the costly interception which enabled B.C. to go up by two scores. It was the play selection which drew up a low-percentage jump ball on fourth down to the short side of the field in the fourth quarter, when The U needed seven points.

Everything about this team was noticeably flawed on a night when at least SOME aspects of this team needed to be great. Getting a supremely deficient performance — with holes and lapses and gaffes in so many facets of play — after an off week is a damning indictment of the head coach and his staff. If Miami had been coming off a grueling double-overtime win over Notre Dame or Virginia Tech, it would have been a lot more understandable… but not in these circumstances.

Understand this, one more time: Miami was lucky last season. That’s not a criticism, but it did mean that Miami couldn’t count on the small margins to work in its favor for a second straight year. The U had to EXPAND its margins by playing a more airtight brand of ball this year, improving in ways which would have reduced the possibility of random bounces turning against the Hurricanes.

The exact opposite has happened, and now, a season lies in ruins, a program immersed in doubt, already forced in late October to look to next year as a moment of truth.

Miami’s 2017 season didn’t end questions about the Hurricanes. If you thought it did, you read last season incorrectly. The 2017 season — as fun and as successful as it was — merely asked a new set of questions about this program, because it didn’t represent a supremely imposing and dominant form of greatness. It required a strong follow-up in 2018.

The regression from last year is a verdict on this year’s team, but it also shows that living with small margins is not a sustainable way of being successful in college football. That is what you need to understand the most about this lost season for The U.

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Miami Hurricanes

Parrying the thrusts of “Perry Pushers” at Miami

Matt Zemek

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Look, Miami fans: You have a point. You do. However, you don’t have an AIRTIGHT point, and there is a difference between having a reasonable argument and an unassailable one.

Yes, in the second half of the 2018 season, the Miami Hurricanes WILL need to give N’Kosi Perry more playing time. How much is the real question, but yes, Perry is the future of the program. Accordingly, he needs to get meaningful repetitions in live games to set the stage for 2019 at The U. I get it. We agree. We are not speaking past each other on that issue.

However: Can we settle down a little bit in our reactions to Mark Richt’s handling of the quarterback situation on this roster? Wanting Perry to play a reasonable amount — a proper and logical inclination — is not the only consideration Richt must account for.

There is still a 2018 season to deal with.

As poorly as this season has gone for Richt and Miami, the Hurricanes are still just one game behind Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division race. They will get their chance to play Virginia Tech soon enough. The season is not lost. It is CLOSE to being lost, but it is not a done deal. Not yet. As long as that is the case, the idea of playing Perry with 2019 in mind isn’t yet something which should be at the very top of Richt’s concerns. It should be on his radar screen, but it is not a top-three priority.

This tweet from longtime Miami-based Associated Press writer Tim Reynolds neatly underscores the point that there is no surefire answer for the Canes at quarterback — not right now:

The notion that N’Kosi Perry is OBVIOUSLY the better quarterback than Malik Rosier is flawed. Perry has more upside, but as you can see, he is not profoundly more accurate as a passer, and he has surrendered more interceptions. If Florida State had not had a touchdown wiped away by an officiating call in the second half of the FSU-Miami game, Perry would have eaten the loss in that contest, which preceded Rosier’s stumble against Virginia this past weekend.

Before the ACC season began, the intensity and fervor surrounding the desire for Perry were already conspicuous. Rosier’s disaster against LSU in the season opener began the Perry bandwagon movement in earnest. Yet, Perry has hardly done enough to warrant continued bandwagon support. It’s not as though he has clearly wrested the job away from Rosier on the merits. He is struggling to find himself just as much as Rosier. He is also searching for solutions and the rhythm good quarterbacks need.

Let’s be blunt about this larger issue: Virginia Tech plays Miami on November 17. If the Coastal title is still in play by then, Richt ought to do whatever he sees fit in the attempt to win that game, presuming the Hokies don’t collapse before then and shake up an already volatile division race even more. If, however, Miami loses one of its upcoming games and falls two games out of contention in the division, such that high-end aspirations are no longer realistic, then the rationale behind Perry’s ascension makes total sense.

If Miami loses before the Virginia Tech game and can no longer maintain a prominent presence in the Coastal race, THAT is the time when the “play Perry for 2019” argument must win the day. That is when Richt has to give up this season in order to prepare for the next one…

.. but not until then.

Yes, N’Kosi Perry needs more playing time, but Miami and its coaching staff shouldn’t give up on 2018 just yet. It is a little too early for that.

Rosier can start. Perry could play a few drives or even a quarter. As long as Miami stays in the Coastal race, Richt owes this year’s team his best shot. Only if things get worse should Richt think about sacrificing what is left of 2018 in service of 2019.

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