University of Miami football coach Mark Richt gave a minimalist assessment of his team’s breakdowns and breakthroughs, and was tight-lipped about its diminishing depth Sunday as the Hurricanes adhere to a tight timetable in preparation for Thursday night’s game at Virginia Tech.
UM lost its second home game in a row Saturday — 20-13 to North Carolina a week after losing 20-19 to Florida State — and dropped out of the Top 25 in the AP and coaches’ polls on Sunday. But the muddled Atlantic Coact Conference picture and the potential for more upsets like the one Syracuse pulled off against Virginia Tech (4-2, 2-1) gives UM (4-2, 1-2) plenty to fight for when it heads to Blacksburg, Virginia.
Richt said he will continue to press for daily improvement after a game that began with a big mistake and ended with a deflating sack, but had some highlights in between.
“I don’t expect everybody to be in a cheerful mood now,” Richt said. “When you focus on the next challenge, that’s when things perk up.”
The Hokies always present a challenge and a different one this year as Justin Fuente has replaced longtime coach Frank Beamer. At the halfway point of the season, UM is also feeling the pain of injuries on a roster that was thin to start with.
Richt was asked about defensive ends Demetrius Jackson and Chad Thomas and cornerback Sheldrick Redwine, starters who each limped off the field Saturday and did not return. He said he has decided not to address injuries until he is required by the ACC to issue an injury report on Thursdays before Saturday games and Wednesdays before Thursday games.
“I’m new to the league, and I’m just going to go by the protocol of the league,” he said.
But he has said depth is a concern.
“We don’t have a lot of depth across the board,” he said. “A lot of teams are going through that. Makes it tough to practice the way you want to go.”
The offensive line, which is missing Sunny Odogwu (leg surgery last week), struggled again on some key plays, including a blocked field-goal attempt and strip-sack of quarterback Brad Kaaya that ended any hope of a last-minute comeback.
“We don’t have enough depth to be playing musical chairs; I think we’ve got the best five,” Richt said. “A lot of times we did block well. In every game in America the quarterback is going to get hit. Every time there’s a sack you can’t say, ‘Oh, my gosh, these guys aren’t doing a good job.’
“But at the moment of truth at the end of the game it was a little disappointing we couldn’t hold our own.”
The offense, which scored one touchdown, had another subpar game. UNC tackle Nazair Jones, part of a defense that was ranked 88th, allowing an average of 31.2 points, said his line closed gaps and made UM’s runners work hard, and the UNC secondary gave rushers time to get to Kaaya.
“The lanes were very small. You had to try to hit them very fast,” UM running back Mark Walton said. “The penalties are killing us, and we’re killing ourselves — dropped passes, missing reads, just not holding onto blocks very well. It can also haunt us. It’s a short week so we have to put this past us and move on.”
Kaaya, who completed 16 of 31 passes for 224 yards, didn’t complete one to any of his wide receivers until the third quarter. He targeted tight end David Njoku in the first half.
“We probably will see more of the other [receivers],” said Richt, mentioning Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis. “We’ve got to make sure we keep those guys [Stacy Coley and Ahmmon Richards] more fresh.”
UM’s defense started slow, then adjusted to UNC’s uptempo style. UM made a goal-line stand, stopping UNC on four consecutive plays from inside the 1-yard line.
“We kind of made a boxing analogy, and played each series as if it was a round and we got a stop and then a three-and-out,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who asked his players to rally at halftime. “Certainly, that’s a fantastic offense, to hold them to two touchdowns gives you a chance to win.”
Richt addressed other topics:
▪ Special teams: “You just need to let the ball go,” Richt said of Lewis’ error of catching and carrying the ball out of bounds at the 3-yard line on opening kickoff. “Not a good judgment decision.”
The blocked field goal was “again a penetration issue,” as it was on the blocked extra-point attempt at the end of the Florida State game.
On the bright side, “We blocked one of theirs, and our punt team was exceptional,” he said, noting that punter Justin Vogel achieved 4.8 seconds hang time on his kicks, with one over five seconds, which neutralized the threat of return man Ryan Switzer.
When Corn Elder hit the stationary Switzer and was penalized, it was because Elder hadn’t noticed that Switzer signaled fair catch soon after the punt.
“The officials ought to blow the whistle when the ball is caught,” Richt said. “Switzer relaxes back there and then takes off — we’ve seen him do that on tape. That put our cover man in a tough spot.”
▪ Replays show Austin Proehl did not have control of the ball when he scored on a 5-yard pass Saturday night.
“Those are tough,” Richt said. “We have a system to go right to the league office. We’ll ask what they thought of the decision.”