Although the University of Miami football team cruised to a 41-7 win in its home opener against Florida A&M on Saturday to even its record at 1-1, issues from the season opener — and previous seasons — persist.
At the top of the list is the offense’s third-down conversion rate. After two games, the Hurricanes have been successful on just 3 of 23 third downs, ranking them last out of 124 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Coach Al Golden finds the silver lining, focusing on what he calls the “money down.” On three of the failed third downs, Miami has converted an ensuing fourth down, improving the conversion rate slightly.
“Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job overall on third down, but a lot of times, third down is tied into fourth down,” he said Sunday. “I think it can get distorted if we let it. It’s just important that we stay with what we’re trying to do and improve the things we’re trying to do in terms of throwing and catching and play selection.”
The first-team offense converted half of its money downs against Florida A&M, and the second team dragged the percentage down with a 25 percent success rate.
The lack of success keeping drives alive had a residual effect on the Canes’ defense in UM’s Labor Day loss to Louisville as the unit was exhausted from being on the field so extensively by the end of the third quarter.
On Saturday, the defense was among the positives from the victory against their lone Football Championship Subdivision opponent on UM’s schedule.
The defense, which featured an increase in looks out of the 3-4 front, kept the Rattlers at bay. FAMU’s lone touchdown came on special teams after recovering a fumble in the end zone on a high snap by Ronald Regula over the punter's head.
Golden said the increase in reps out of the 3-4 was based on the matchup against FAMU, and he was pleased with what he saw out of his linebackers.
“The 3-4 allows us to pressure the quarterback and zone blitz more,” Golden said. “I was pleased with [Jermaine] Grace’s production, obviously Denzel [Perryman]. I think [Darrion] Owens grew up for us. Thurston [Armbrister] continues to be really steady. … We’re getting activity out of the linebackers and Tyriq [McCord] and Thurston setting the edge for us.”
Perryman, the senior linebacker, and sophomore wide receiver Stacy Coley left the game early with shoulder injuries. Golden said on Sunday that neither injury is serious, but the team will be careful with each — Coley more than Perryman.
“I think we’re going to be cautious, obviously, with anybody that has an injury,” Golden said. “I think Denzel is going to be fine, and I think we’re going to be a little bit more prudent with Stacy in the next 48 hours but expect both of them to be ready to go.”
UM had seven different players make their debuts with the team on Saturday — six freshmen and transfer backup quarterback Jake Heaps. Heaps, 23, who has 30 career starts under his belt with Kansas and BYU, went 5 for 8 for 41 yards with offensive coordinator James Coley mostly calling run plays while he was in.
Freshmen running backs Joe Yearby and Trayone Gray also saw action. Yearby ran for 95 yards on his team-high 14 carries, and Gray took the first rush attempt of his career in for a 10-yard touchdown.
“I think Joe played well in the opener and is practicing better, so he warranted more playing time,” Golden said.
Offensive linemen Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling, wide receiver Tyre Brady, tight end Chris Herndon and defensive tackle Anthony Moten also made debuts.
The Canes now look to carry the momentum of being winners for the first time this season into another nonconference game, as they host Arkansas State (1-1) of the Sun Belt Conference at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
While not a sexy opponent at face value, the Red Wolves are no pushover.
They have won at least a share of the Sun Belt title each of the past three seasons while winning 10 games in 2011 and 2012.
They also have a knack for scheduling challenging games out of conference, traveling to Auburn, Oregon, Nebraska and Virginia Tech the past three seasons. They are coming off a 34-19 loss at Tennessee.