Mark Richt came to Miami and, in two years, made the Hurricanes an ACC Coastal Division champion for the first time in school history. The Canes played in the ACC Championship Game for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They played in the Orange Bowl game. They played in the games Miami football expects to encounter each season.
Given how marvelously successful 2017 was, and given his history at Georgia, where he won multiple SEC championships and fielded an especially strong team once every three to four years, it seemed that Richt was about to settle in for a long and prosperous tenure at Miami.
This did not mean that 2018 was going to be a great year. Before I joined Florida Football Insiders in September, I wrote this piece in August about the difficulty of following the 2017 season with another equally successful campaign.
However, while being skeptical about whether Miami could go 11-1 or even 10-2, I never thought Miami would sink to 7-5 in the regular season. More precisely, I never thought the Hurricanes would look so consistently clueless on offense. I thought this would be a 9-3 or possibly 10-2 team which would be competitive in its losses but not come up with the takeaways it gained in crucial situations last year. I didn’t think this would be a genuinely mediocre team.
Yet, that’s exactly what the 2018 Hurricanes were.
It was ugly. It was conspicuous. It was a case of substantial regression, not a slight downturn or the kind of season which, with a few bounces of the ball, could have been 11-1 again.
No, this season’s Miami offense played far too poorly to earn that benefit of the doubt.
This was a miserable autumn in which Richt lost the mustard on his fastball The good feelings in and around the Miami program after the 2017 joyride didn’t just evaporate; they evaporated and then turned to anger from fans. This never felt like a season in which fans thought, “Well, this season just didn’t break right. We’ll get ’em next year.” No, it was deeper than that. This was a season marked by thoughts such as, “How did we perform so well last season, bring people back this season, and become THIS BAD?”
The pitchforks were out for Richt in October and were never truly put away.
Okay, then. Three months were awful, but at least now Miami had four weeks to prepare for a bowl game against another 7-5 team which had conspicuously underachieved this season. Wisconsin was “Miami Midwest,” following an Orange Bowl season with a returning quarterback and several familiar faces… and utterly falling all over itself on offense. Miami looked at a beefier version of itself when it stepped into the Pinstripe Bowl to battle the Badgers.
This was a chance to get healthy in a winnable matchup against an opponent which started a backup, Jack Coan, at quarterback. With four weeks for Richt to prepare, this was a time for the head coach and offensive mastermind to show that he could coach up his quarterbacks and get them to play up to standard.
One bowl win wasn’t going to make the pain of the regular season go away. One bowl win wasn’t going to eliminate or severely reduce the problems faced by Miami — now without Manny Diaz, now without recruiting momentum, now without an 11-win season to celebrate — heading into 2019.
One bowl win, however, would have done a lot to quiet the growing fears that Richt had lost his touch. A crisp performance from his quarterbacks — not a spectacular one, but simply a display of basic competence and football IQ — would have given Richt the reassurance that he was entering 2019 with a regained sense of command over his offense. He needed that with Diaz heading to Temple.
Instead, Richt got a complete disaster. It could not have been worse.
Miami played down to the “warm weather team in cold weather” stereotype which was fully in evidence for Miami even in last year’s successful season.
The Canes played and moved like icicles in Pittsburgh. They moved as poorly against Wisconsin in New York. They were clueless on offense the whole game.
They were slow on defense at the start as they struggled to adjust to the conditions. Even against an opponent which couldn’t pass the ball with any consistency, the Canes couldn’t stop Wisconsin’s running game, which kept moving the pile and creating holes in the middle of The U’s defensive front.
Soft. Unprepared. Poorly coached.
No improvement over four weeks. No player development — especially not at quarterback — after weeks of bowl practices. No improved decisions or play calls from the offensive staff. No willingness to bench Malik Rosier at halftime (which should have been the obvious move) and give N’Kosi Perry at least a full half of football.
No brains. No clue. No toughness. No chance.
On a night in New York when Miami needed to at least show that it was capable of improving before 2019 came to a close, Miami delivered a stink bomb.
It was never the case that Richt’s job was in jeopardy this season. Miami would have become a very undesirable place for other big-name coaches if Richt had been fired this year. Other coaches would live in terror, paralyzed at the thought of virtually nonexistent job security, if they saw someone with Richt’s seniority and credentials shoved out the door ONE YEAR after an immensely successful 2017 season.
However, this Pinstripe Bowl did need to set the table for 2019. Richt did need to show to his bosses and his fan base that he could turn this ship around.
Instead, that ship ran into the hard rocks of Wisconsin’s linemen, wrecked on a December night in the Big Apple.
2018 is mercifully over for Richt and Miami. That’s the good news. The bad news is that with 2019 upon us, Richt has no more excuses and no more grace periods. He has managed to do the improbable: He has squandered every last ounce of the good will he generated in 2017. Richt has to know — and everyone in college football does as well — that if Miami doesn’t meaningfully improve in 2019, Richt will be looking for a new job. This doesn’t mean Richt has to win the ACC title or go 11-1, but it does mean that Miami has to win the games it is supposed to win.
In 2018, the quality of the ACC took a big tumble. The ACC Coastal champion, Pitt, lost five games en route to its division title and got buried by Clemson for loss number six. No ACC team other than Clemson won 10 games in the regular season. Against this version of the ACC, Miami should have been able to win at least nine games
It ended its season after the Pinstripe Bowl at 7-6, essentially a break-even team.
If the rest of the ACC remains as bad in 2019 as it was in 2018, and Miami can’t win nine games, Richt — with this 2018 disaster, capped by the Pinstripe Bowl debacle — has lost any margin for error. He has lost the benefit of the doubt he had in 2018 as his cushion, his buffer, against fan anger and displeasure.
The 2018 regular season got away from Mark Richt. The Pinstripe Bowl was a time to reshape attitudes.
Richt, as everyone can see, spectacularly failed to do that.
The hot seat talk — relative to the 2018 season — never added up.
Now we’re focused on 2019, though. Feeling warm yet, coach?
If this mess isn’t fixed, the 2020s will begin with yet another man calling the shots in Coral Gables.
We will see if this storied football school endures yet one more U Turn before the end of this decade. Games as bad as the Pinstripe Bowl should have been consigned to Miami’s past, but they are clearly still part of the present moment. Miami administrators are left to wonder if they will continue to be part of the future.
That’s exactly why Mark Richt took a tremendous 2017 season and exhausted its measure of value in the subsequent 12 months.
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.
Canes named N’Kosi Perry starting QB against Virginia
Canes head coach Manny Diaz announced on Wednesday that last year’s part-time starter N’Kosi Perry will be starting under center for the matchup with Virginia. He said that he made the move, because Jarren Williams is dealing with an injury that has him not at full capacity, however, it could in part be a hope to continue the momentum that almost pulled out a huge come from behind win against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
N’Kosi Perry starting Saturday, per Manny Diaz pic.twitter.com/UmILFo8W5o
— Gaboowins (@GabyUrrutia22) October 9, 2019
“We’re going to start N’Kosi Perry at quarterback on Friday night.” He added, “Jarren Williams is dealing with an upper extremity issue that leaves him less that 100 percent. N’Kosi gives us a chance to win, I think we all saw last Saturday the improvement in his game and we’re excited to ride behind him and find a way to beat a very well coached and tough-minded Virginia football team.”
The Virginia game will mark Perry’s seventh career start as he sits this season at 35 for 55 with 501 yards and five touchdowns so far.
This past Saturday night, Diaz had seen enough of an ineffective Jarren Williams, who threw three first-half interceptions to the Hokies, So right before the half, he replaced him with Perry. On the final play of the first half, Perry got a key Hail Mary score, saving Miami from a potential shutout, making the game 28 – 7 at the break.
Perry then engineered an 88-yard drive out of the locker room hitting tight end Brevin Jordan to trim the lead in half to 28 – 14. The Hokies still looked to be in great shape, when Hooker threw his third TD pass of the day to cap a Virginia Tech 80-yard drive, and it was 35 – 14 with 12:43 left.
But unfazed, Perry helped Miami get right back in the game hitting Jeff Thomas with a 13-yard score and then, with another 25-yard score to Thomas, plus a 2-point conversion to make the game 35 – 29 with over three minutes remaining.
Perry, who finished with 422 yards against Virginia Tech despite not playing until the second quarter got Miami in range for one more score. But, he threw incomplete with one second remaining in the back of the endzone and then, his final pass with no time left was batted down at the goal line, and allowed the Hokies their first ACC win of the season.
Diaz indicated Williams remained day-to-day and has been limited in practice this week. It’s undetermined who will be QB1 for the remainder of the season once Williams is back to full speed, but for now Perry is the guy who needs to continue to ignite the passing game that hasn’t fully taken off for Miami this season.
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