The Miami Hurricanes are at the midway point of the 2019 season, and it’s pretty much no contest who the most valuable player of the offense. He leads Miami with seven touchdowns, has a team-high 555 yards from scrimmage and has accounted for just about every memorable offensive moment. Coach Manny Diaz says, “He’s been the identity of our offense.”
The Hurricanes’ offense goes as DeeJay Dallas goes, and the best way for Miami to get better offensively in the second half of the season is to make sure the running back is at his best as often as possible.
“In my mind,” Diaz said Wednesday in Coral Gables, “he’s absolutely one of the most dynamic players in our conference.”
With an inexperienced offensive line and an offense too often forced into passing situations on third downs, the Hurricanes, who host Georgia Tech on Saturday in Miami Gardens, haven’t always helped out Dallas. On at least half of his touchdown runs this season, the junior either broke a tackle in the backfield or broke multiple tackles down the field. In the first quarter of the season, Dallas — and fellow running back Cam’Ron Harris — consistently gashed opponents to take some of the burden off quarterback Jarren Williams. In the second quarter, the Hurricanes’ run blocking has faltered.
Their three games with the fewest rushing attempts have come in the last three games and three of their four lowest single-game totals have come in the same stretch. In a 17-9 win against the then-No. 20 Virginia Cavaliers on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) ran 25 times for 83 yards. The 3.3 average yards per carry was the Hurricanes’ third-worst mark of the season.
These past three games have been a far cry from the start of the season, when Miami looked like it was going to be a team which could lean on its running game when its inexperienced quarterback couldn’t consistently guide the passing attack. In a season-opening loss to the then-No. 8 Florida Gators in August, the Hurricanes ran for 94 yards despite 10 sacks for negative-60 yards counting against the total. Two weeks later in a loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels, Miami piled up 179 yards on the ground, then followed it 257 rushing yards in a rout of the FCS Bethune-Cookman Wildcats the next week.
In the three games since beating Behtune-Cookman, the Hurricanes have a total of just 230 yards on the ground.
“I haven’t put up the number that I feel like I was supposed to put up over the past three or four games,” Dallas said Wednesday. “It’s on me, mostly. I’m missing holes, stumbling, going down after the first dude hits me. That’s not me. That’s not who I am as a player, and we’re just going to come out and just keep playing our ball. I don’t feel like we’ve been struggling running the ball. I feel like we do a dangerous job running the ball.”
Miami has been dangerous sometimes this season, but lately only when Dallas makes a spectacular play. The Hurricanes scored an opening-drive touchdown in a win against the Central Michigan Chippewas last month when they went for it on fourth down and Dallas took a hit in the backfield before springing into the end zone for a 1-yard score. Two weeks later in a loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies, Dallas tied the score in the fourth quarter by breaking one tackle and making three more defenders miss on a 62-yard run.
Dallas has already matched a career best with six touchdown runs this season and has ripped off five runs of at least 20 yards, including three of 50 or longer. The smaller chunk plays — the 4- and 5-yard runs — have all but vanished in the past month, though. Twenty-one of Dallas’ 33 carries in the last three games have gone for three yards or fewer, including eight for negative yardage. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Miami has struggled blocking the C-gap between the tackle and tight end.
“We tried to run the ball [Friday] night. We just didn’t do it very well,” the offensive coordinator said Monday. “We didn’t handle the C-gap very well Friday night. When you can’t block the C-gap area, especially when you’re playing an odd defense, it makes things very difficult to run the football.”
The desire to recapture Dallas’ early season success is the unspoken reason Enos insists on running a significant portion of the Hurricanes’ offense from under center. Miami is at its best when it runs the ball effectively, and it runs the ball more effectively when lined up under center. A heavy rushing attack puts the ball in the hands of perhaps the Hurricanes’ best player and covers up the most glaring weaknesses of their freshman offensive linemen.
Diaz often points back to Miami’s trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when he defends offensive linemen Zion Nelson and Jakai Clark. Dallas ran for 7.6 yards per carry at Kenan Memorial Stadium, and his longest run of the night was a 37-yard pickup running to his left. Nelson, the left tackle, led the way and Clark pulled over from right guard to make another key block.
The loss to the Tar Heels was the only time this season Miami threw for 300 yards and ran for 100 in the same game this season. It was Enos’ offense at its finest, and it’s the ideal the Hurricanes are seeking in the second half of the season.
“I think that just comes with the game of football. Some games you’re going to run for 200 yards, other games you’re going run for 40, 50,” star tight end Brevin Jordan said Tuesday. “That’s just the way of the game.”