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:
— Warren Sapp (@WarrenSapp) November 4, 2018
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.
Another rough FSU Miami and USF Saturday
It was another rough Saturday for several of the teams in the Sunshine State. Yes, Florida got a quality win at South Carolina in the SEC and UCF came off a bye week and cruised with East Carolina at home. However, for the Miami Hurricanes, USF Bulls and Florida State Seminoles Saturday was just the latest setback in what has turned into depressing seasons for all.
First in South Florida, the Hurricanes managed to blow a game at home against a team that had not won an ACC game in Georgia Tech.
The Canes gave up a fake punt for a touchdown in the first, missed three easy field goals of their own, including one that would have won the game at the end of regulation. And then, allow the Jackets to score the only touchdown of overtime to defeat them.
Couple this loss with the poor performance for most of the Virginia Tech game two weeks ago, where Miami trailed at one point 28 – 0 before roaring back, yet still lost the game. And also, an opening season loss at North Carolina will they allow the Tarheels true freshman quarterback to throw the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute and Manny Diaz’s honeymoon is over with the fans and alumni.
As bad as things are in Coral Gables, they’re equally so in Tampa for USF. Charlie Strong’s team looked like they had “righted the ship” with wins at UConn and at home against a quality BYU team last Saturday. However, yesterday they traveled to Annapolis and had the Naval Academy roll them 35 – 3.
It is the third decisive blowout loss for USF this season and dropped them to 3 – 4 on the year.
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry didn’t complete a pass in the game but still ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns and the ‘Middies had over 400 yards on the ground in the easy win.
We have written about Strong job security already this season and Saturday will only reignite the conversation that the Green and gold need to look elsewhere for leadership after this season.
Speaking of leadership changes, the outrage continues with the struggles of Florida State who lost for the latest time Saturday night at Wake Forest. The Noles actually took a 14 – 12 lead of the fourth quarter but allowed the Demon Deacons to take the lead on a field goal with just over four minutes remaining.
Florida State then bumbled and stumbled at the end of the game, including coach Willie Taggart taking a timeout to ice his own kicker, Ricky Aguayo, before he missed a 51-yard field goal.
FSU could have also used that timeout to save them more time at the very end of the game where they got the ball back once more with just :35 remaining.
Quarterback James Blackman took a sack, fumbling the ball and FSU barely got lined up to run one last futile play that ended the game. Another Nole loss has them at 3-4 and staring squarely at having back-to-back losing seasons that likely isn’t survivable ($17 million buyout or not) for Taggart.
Again, Gators and Knights fans have a lot to smile about and look forward to, but right now, the other three prominent programs in the state or wondering how much more losing is going to go on before the finish line in December?
Even in victory reality is harsh for Hurricanes
It makes sense that an important victory for the Miami Hurricanes – a season-saving 17-9 win over the Virginia Cavaliers on Friday night – would simultaneously remind the Canes how far they still have to go, and how slim their margins are.
This was an improvement, and a significant one, but it wasn’t the conquest which dramatically changes opinions and gives birth to a fresh sense of hope.
The uneasy coexistence of happiness and uncertainty is going to remain part of Miami’s world in 2019, and if we’re being honest, probably the first half of the 2020 season. The U isn’t yet ready to escape the familiar problems which have dogged the program for a decade and a half.
If we are looking at the very big picture, negativity can’t be eliminated from the landscape. One has to see reality for what it is.
But enough about the bigger picture. In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s game against Virginia, Miami gained positive clarity and took a needed step forward in its evolution. The Hurricanes probably knew this on a conceptual level before the game began, but now they know this in a concrete way:
They have to lean on their defense, and they have to avoid huge mistakes.
The Canes watched a home game against Virginia Tech slip away the week before. A tidal wave of interceptions led to a boatload of Hokie points. Miami’s festival of mistakes enabled The U to lose as a 12-point favorite.
A starting point for the Canes against Virginia was to not commit turnovers Sometimes, “addition” can simply mean the elimination of negatives: addition by subtraction.
Miami did exactly that against the ACC Coastal leader and favorite, committing zero turnovers. Virginia endured a blocked field goal – made possible by Miami’s Pat Bethel – and a steady stream of failed red-zone possessions which recalled UCF’s nightmare the Friday before against Cincinnati.
Virginia committed a turnover inside the Miami 25-yard line. Jon Ford punched the ball out. Trajan Bandy made the recovery.
Miami didn’t make any of those debilitating mistakes.
No, the offense didn’t function well for most of the game. Miami’s first drive and its last produced touchdowns; everything in between created only three points. N’Kosi Perry (above) lacked touch on his deep ball. The offensive line wasn’t particularly good (though not as bad as it was against Florida).
Yet, with zero turnovers, Miami didn’t give Virginia any free points. It gave Virginia Tech several free touchdowns six days earlier.
Merely weeding out the awful aspects of its performance was enough, given how well the defense played, especially freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau
He hadn’t been in the starting lineup earlier in the season, but on Friday, he delivered seven tackles, a sack, a fourth-down stop, and a forced fumble recovery.
Perry might not need to win games; he can merely avoid losing them… and allow Rousseau and the defense to win them.
Miami isn’t a complete team. It does not have a complete solution within its grasp. It does, however, possess the roadmap to success in 2019. It probably won’t always work, but it is the way UM needs to play:
Don’t screw up. Shorten the game. Play for field position and a rested defense. Let the defense win.
If Miami can continue to trim the fat and add by subtracting, this season – which probably won’t reach all of its goals – can become a lot better than many expected after any of September’s especially embarrassing moments.
That isn’t a soaring statement of hope, but it’s a lot better than the previous weeks of this season.
For now, that’s a start, and a good step in the right direction.
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