For most of the first half Friday, the Miami Hurricanes offense did enough to keep pace with the Boston College Eagles. Malik Rosier completed the short passes he needed to. DeeJay Dallas made plays on the ground. Miami scored twice in the first 26 minutes and had a chance to add more if it could pull together a good two-minute drill.
The drive started well enough. Travis Homer ran for a first down, Rosier ran for another two and the Hurricanes moved into Boston College territory. It was time to take a shot for the end zone, which meant Rosier could only be looking for one wide receiver. Jeff Thomas ran deep down the right sideline, past a cornerback and the helping safety. Rosier heaved toward the end zone.
But Thomas slipped and fell. Rosier’s pass fluttered about 10 yards short of where it should’ve gone, anyway. The Eagles would’ve halted the drive with an interception if two defensive backs hadn’t collided while trying to figure out who would haul in the takeaway.
“I think it’s the execution,” Thomas said after practice Tuesday at Greentree Practice Field. “If one person messes up then the whole play will probably be dead and we can’t afford to screw up on crucial situations.”
This is the same stance coach Mark Richt and most everyone around Miami (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has taken publicly during the Hurricanes’ recent offensive drought. Richt insists the issue isn’t with playcalling — and he did change it up a little against Boston College — but with getting all 11 players to execute at the same time.
Rosier has missed throws. Running backs haven’t consistently hit their holes. Wide receivers have dropped passes, and in the case of Thomas, for example, have at times run wrong routes. And offensive linemen have committed penalties at inopportune moments.
When everyone is playing to their standard, Miami can piece together extended drives with a mixture of short throws and chunky runs. When the offense doesn’t work, the Hurricanes aren’t making enough big plays to manage much of anything. Against the Duke Blue Devils (5-3, 1-3) on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, something has to change.
“The tough thing about offensive football,” Richt said at his weekly news conference Tuesday in Coral Gables, “is most every time 11 out of 11 got to do it right.”
Understandably, back-to-back games with 14 or fewer points has just about everyone on offense frustrated. Richt is frustrated he can’t get his players to execute. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown is frustrated about players he feels are neither leading nor following. The Hurricanes talented playmakers are frustrated they can’t pull Miami out of its funk.
No one on the offense is more capable of creating a good drive out of nothing than Thomas. The receiver arrived in South Florida a top-100 recruit in the 247Sports.com composite rankings and immediately became one of Miami’s top wide receivers as a freshman in 2017. For the first month and a half of the 2018 season, Thomas elevated his play once again. He ripped off a pair of 100-yard receiving games in the first two weeks, then made two of the biggest plays in a win against the Florida State Seminoles last month, finishing the game with three catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
The two games since have been different. Thomas caught only one ball in a loss to the Virginia Cavaliers, then finished with only 31 yards against Boston College. The sophomore has noticed defenses handling him differently since the Florida State game.
“They’ve been pretty much bracketing me when I’m in the slot, so it’s been kind of hard,” Thomas said. “I just got to, like, work harder and get moved to the outside sometimes, and switch up the game plan.”
The Hurricanes did start to change some of their offensive strategy in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Rosier ran 14 times — the most a Hurricanes quarterback has since the season-opening loss to the LSU Tigers — and his 8-for-9 start was largely due to an average of only 9.6 yards per attempt. Thomas’ four catches, for example, went for only 12, 4, 7 and 8 yards. Rosier’s longest pass was an 18-yard swing to Homer.
But if Rosier can’t consistently get the ball down the field, this is how Miami will have to win. The Hurricanes feel they have the skill players to make it work.
“We have a lot of playmakers and everybody feels like [they can] take it a long way after a short catch,” Thomas said, “so we just got to design some plays and get the playmakers the ball.”