Postscripts and reaction from UM’s 37-16 loss at Virginia Tech:
• Three weeks ago, UM cracked the top 10 and held a 10-point lead against FSU. Now, at 4-3 and reeling, they’ll need to win four of their last five to even get to eight wins – a tall task considering their shortcomings in pass protection, Brad Kaaya’s lack of mobility and a slew on injuries on defense.
Any illusions that UM would make a one-year turnaround under Mark Richt have been shattered, a painful reminder of how far this program still must come to return to championship-level football.
Depleted by injury, UM (1-3 in the ACC) played its worst defensive game of the season, blitzed for 523 yards, including 251 on the ground (53 carries, 5.7 per carry) and 272 through the air. The tackling was poor, uncharacteristic of this team but reminiscent of the problems we witnessed for years under previous defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.
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More disconcerting was Virginia Tech’s sack parade – eight – and there was plenty of blame to go around.
Guard Danny Isidora, UM’s best offensive lineman, was beaten for two of them. Trevor Darling, the beleaguered left tackle, was whipped for at least one. On two sacks, running back Mark Walton failed to step up in pass protection.
Right tackle Tyree St. Louis had two foolish false start penalties and allowed a sack. Center Nick Linder had a holding penalty. And guard Kc McDermott – who should be much better than this -- also was beaten in pass protection, irritating coaches to the point that he was replaced by Alex Gall in the second quarter.
Far more was expected from this offensive line, especially after UM outbid Georgia Tech to lure former Virginia Tech assistant Stacy Searels as offensive line coach. Darling and McDermott aren’t playing up to their high school pedigree, and UM clearly doesn’t trust its depth beyond Gall. (St. Louis is filling in for injured Sunny Odogwu.)
Kaaya also shoulders blame here. He should have gotten the ball out more quickly on several of the eight sacks, nearly all of which were drive killers.
“The clock has to go off quicker for Brad Kaaya,” ESPN’s Jesse Palmer implored.
Mark Richt explained the sacks thusly on WQAM: “Sacks are a function of a lot of things. It starts with the plays being called, then goes to the protection, not only to the linemen but the backs and tight ends. It also has to do with route running and the quarterback’s ability to go through his progressions and get the ball out. I didn’t do a good enough job of Brad being able to make his progressions cleanly [and find receivers]. I have to do a better job of making sure he’s comfortable with everything we call and every progression is going to make sense and every time they’re in a certain coverage, he’ll know how to react.”
Kaaya made a foolish throw to Chris Herndon in double coverage that was picked, off a deflection, giving him as many interceptions this season (five) as all of last season. Otherwise, he made several strong throws en route to finishing 23 for 38 for 323 yards.
But his lack of mobility, and inability to throw the ball or escape pressure with the pocket collapsing, will be the lingering image of this night. The other lingering offensive snapshot: David Njoku, without a defender close to him, stumbling and falling on a long catch that should have been a touchdown.
Defensively, attrition cost UM seriously for the first time this season. Without injured defensive linemen Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson and Gerald Willis and cornerback Sheldrick Redwine – compounded with the third quarter injury to Rayshawn Jenkins, who needed to be carried off the field – UM simply couldn’t keep up.
Shaquille Quarterman had his worst game in an otherwise splendid freshman season, beaten in pass coverage a couple of times and missing a couple of tackles. Jaquan Johnson was beaten on one Sam Rogers TD catch, and Charles Perry and Johnson were beaten on another.
During one series, UM played seven front-seven players who were supposed to be backups – Courtel Jenkins, Ryan Fines, Anthony Moten and freshman Joe Jackson on the defensive line --- and Mike Smith, Darrion Owens and Charles Perry at linebacker.
It would be fine to use all of those players at certain times, but UM simply can’t win ACC road games against formidable opponents with that group logging lots of snaps as a collective group.
Moten, incidentally, moved from defensive tackle to end because of the injuries to Demetrius Jackson and Chad Thomas. Joe Jackson started opposite Trent Harris, and freshman Patrick Bethel also got some time.
Freshman Malek Young, who could be a fine corner here one day, was beaten in coverage on a key third down and failed to catch what should have been an interception on another sequence. Adrian Colbert was beaten for a key second-half catch.
Joe Jackson had a sack --- and Norton and Richard McIntosh Jr. had some good moments early – but the depleted defensive line was eventually worn down.
And this was unacceptable: UM had three personal foul penalties, by Norton, Courtel Jenkins and Jamal Carter.
• Richt’s reaction afterward on issues other than sacks, via WQAM: “Start with me. We just didn’t do a good enough job. There are a lot of areas that just didn’t get it done. It starts with me. It starts with me offensively. There’s things that didn’t go right in every area of the game… Not enough good to put ourselves in position to win this thing.
“We didn’t tackle as well in the second half as we did in the first half. We are wounded on that side of the ball pretty good. At times, we had five true freshmen in at the same time. That bodes well for the future, but doesn’t [necessarily] now. I’m not by any means blaming the freshmen. They’re doing a great job. There definitely were some breakdowns defensively we’ll see on tape.”
Richt, on Njoku being tackled by the turf monster on the potential touchdown, so to speak: “You hope a guy can keep his balance and [get] into the end zone. Those are the times you hope to keep your feet and kick it in the zone.”
More Richt: Berrios’ touchdown “was a play we worked hard on. They struggled with [Herndon’s touchdown route]. I probably should have called it more…. [Ahmmon Richards] is a very talented kid, does a good job getting off the jam. When we put the ball in play, we made the play. The catch radius of our players, we made every single one.”
That was notable, because ESPN reported that UM entered having dropped nine percent of targets, worst among Power Five conference schools.
• Final stats: Joe Yearby had 9 carries for 53 yards, Mark Walton 11 for 58… Ahmmon Richards had three catches for 78 yards, Njoku 3 for 69, Herndon 4 for 53 (including a 35-yard touchdown), Stacy Coley 5 for 49 (made a valiant attempt to catch a late touchdown but landed out of bounds), Braxton Berrios 2 for 25 (including a 25-yard touchdown), Malcolm Lewis 2 for 25 and Dayall Harris 1 for 3.
• Richt lost more than three games only six times in 15 seasons at Georgia. UM would need to win out to avoid that fate in his first season at Miami.
• Kaaya moved into third place on UM’s career passing list, passing Stephen Morris... UM surpassed last season’s total of tackles for loss (66).
• Berrios, afterward on WQAM: “Nobody really saw it coming. We tried to get back on track each week. Right now, we’re going to find an answer, stay together and go back to the drawing board. We’re going to work harder than we have. Coaches can only do so much. They can call the plays….
“When we get down, we try to turn things on. That shouldn’t be the case at all. We have to come out firing. We have to figure something out. I have no doubt we’re going to. We need to end October with a win [in Notre Dame]. It’s imperative.”