With the losing streak at four and one third of the season to come, a workmanlike reality has set in for the University of Miami football team. Gone are the gaudy goals, but a four-game winning streak is within reach.
“In every facet of the game we’ve got to improve,” coach Mark Richt said a day after UM lost 30-27 at Notre Dame. “It’s doing things right on a consistent basis. The biggest thing is to continue to fight and trust and work hard at the little things that make a difference.”
UM (4-4) encountered many of the same troubles against Notre Dame (3-5) that it has tried to correct throughout October. The running game stalled and netted a paltry 18 yards. Quarterback Brad Kaaya was sacked five times. The offense got trapped into third-down-and-long situations. The defense missed tackles on pivotal long gains by the Irish. Penalties cost 86 yards.
But the Hurricanes showed moxie in rallying from a 20-point deficit to score 27 unanswered points. They lost on an Irish field goal in the final minute. Kaaya’s last-gasp attempt to get within tying field goal range ended with a sack.
“I guess it clicked at halftime that we had to get it going,” tight end David Njoku said. “It shows that we have heart. We don’t give up no matter what the score is.”
UM, 1-3 in the ACC, faces conference foes Pittsburgh at home on Saturday, Virginia and N.C. State on the road and Duke at home on Nov. 26.
Richt said Kaaya is doing as well as can be expected considering the pummeling he’s taken since the Florida State game, when he was decked hard onto his throwing shoulder on the first play. Kaaya finished 26 for 42 for 288 yards with one interception and one touchdown against Notre Dame. He again had problems reacting to the collapsing pocket and jettisoning the ball before rushers enveloped him. He was also observed windmilling his right arm in apparent discomfort on the sideline. But Richt said Kaaya is fine.
“He threw very well as far as velocity and accuracy. I didn’t see him tapering off,” Richt said. “I won’t be surprised if he’s sore.”
Richt said Kaaya has to sense when it’s the right moment to throw the ball away.
“Protection isn’t going to be perfect every down, although we should be more consistent,” Richt said of the offensive line. “He’s got to trust it’s going to be good enough so he can focus on what he needs to focus on downfield.”
Njoku said the team has complete faith in Kaaya.
“I’m very proud of how he gets tougher each and every week,” Njoku said.
The lack of productivity from running backs Mark Walton and Joe Yearby, who were churning out yardage against lesser opponents early in the season, has been caused by a combination of factors, Richt said: Missed or ineffective blocks or freelancing by the backs.
“We call it pressing the line of scrimmage,” he said. “There’s a certain spot to get the back to run towards and then make his cut. Sometimes the back loses a little patience when early in the game things haven’t gone as well as they want as far as space.”
Falling behind early also hurts the running game. Walton had 18 carries, Yearby only six and Gus Edwards added three.
“Our play-action started working,” Richt said. “But the third-and-longs make it hard on everybody.”
Special teams play was a bright spot with a recovered onside kick and a UM touchdown off a fumbled punt by Notre Dame’s returner.
“In three of the games we lost a play here or there could have changed the outcome,” Richt said. “We’ve got to work hard at getting consistent.”