If there’s any solace in the University of Miami’s 37-16 loss at Virginia Tech following a short week of preparation, it’s in the extra time the Hurricanes will have to plan and heal for their next road trip — to Notre Dame on Oct. 29.
But they’ll need every hour of it as the team confronts a growing list of problems that have led to a three-game losing streak. Three of them were glaring against the Hokies on Thursday night: Miami’s depleted defense allowed 564 yards, UM’s anemic offense gained only 42 rushing yards, and besieged quarterback Brad Kaaya was sacked eight times.
The loss all but eliminated UM (4-3, 1-3) from contention for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division title. Up next, the Fighting Irish (2-5) in South Bend, Indiana, followed by a home game against Pittsburgh (5-2).
When Miami was ranked 10th preceding its loss to Florida State, coach Mark Richt cautioned that early poll numbers were meaningless, and he was right. UM has averaged just 16 points in its losses to stiffer competition.
The struggles on offense are interconnected and compounding each other, Richt said Friday. The result is that UM puts itself in a hole on third down, in field position and the scoreboard. The Canes converted on just three of 15 third downs against Virginia Tech.
“Frustrating,” Richt said. “There were a couple opportunities we didn’t cash in on. We were playing against a high-risk, high-reward defense, and there were times they’d get us and times we’d get them, but we didn’t get them enough to win the ball game.”
UM’s running game, which had been flourishing with Mark Walton and Joe Yearby as a dual threat, has stalled. Walton and Yearby combined for 13 rushing touchdowns in the first four games but have only scored one (Yearby) in the past three, and none on Thursday night.
“When you run the ball you reduce your third-down situations and tend to get medium or third-and-short,” Richt said. “You help your pass protection. The linemen who are rushing aren’t sure if it’s pass or run, so it slows down the rush. We need to put points on the board so we don’t get behind and feel like we have to throw.”
Kaaya completed 23 of 38 passes for 323 yards and one interception, and hit Chris Herndon and Braxton Berrios for touchdowns. But his efficiency has slipped as he’s been battered, hurried or unable to get rid of the ball before being tackled.
“Sacks happen because of a number of things,” Richt said. “You’ve got to have good schemes, and the quarterback has got to know his progressions to get the ball out with confidence. First, second or third option or throw it away. I probably did the worst job of the season of Brad having answers against what he’s going to see.
“The linemen, backs and tight ends have to work together, and the routes have to be run with precision.”
Richt said the offensive line is a simplistic scapegoat.
“It’s easy to jump on the O-line,” he said. “We have to make sure our plan is very sound, our quarterback is comfortable with his progressions and everyone works better at their technique for protecting the pocket.”
Injuries seemed to catch up with Miami’s defense, which had been holding opponents to an average of 14 points. Starting defensive ends Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson were out, as was cornerback Sheldrick Redwine and backup tackle Gerald Willis. Defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins left the game with a leg injury in the third quarter and did not return.
“I believe we had six true freshmen playing defense at the same time at some points,” Richt said. “We’ve got guys flat-out sucking it up. We’re not subbing much.”
Richt said the end of UM’s NCAA suspension stemming from the Nevin Shapiro case will restore the program’s full allotment of scholarships.
“Part of our issue now is we’re thin,” he said. “When you get your numbers back you can withstand some attrition. The injuries have a domino effect on offense, defense and special teams.”