Blaming mostly coaching for a team’s problems can, at times, be intellectually lazy.
But such criticism was clearly warranted during the regrettable Al Golden era at UM, and that becomes increasingly obvious with every game during that era and this new one, increasingly obvious with how many of these same players are thriving under this new staff, and increasingly obvious with every revealing comment from players about this staff compared to the departed one.
Yes, the true test won’t come until the murderer’s row of October games that await, including Georgia Tech, FSU, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
But on Saturday, Mark Richt, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and this staff offered more evidence of why this staff is such an enormous upgrade.
There were myriad examples in this 45-10 UM thumping of Appalachian State:
• Smart, savvy play calling. Richt, relishing calling plays again, adeptly mixed a healthy portion of bubble screens with vertical shots, a power running game, and some intermediate throws, while mixing tempo.
Calling several crisply-run bubble screens on Miami’s second drive – first two straight to Dayall Harris and then another two in a row to Ahmmon Richards – were terrific calls and netted four first downs.
And they were even more effective because UM was running those bubble screens at the speed of a late-game two-minute offense. That’s possible this season because Hurricanes players are better conditioned because, as noted here, they run off the field between plays during practice as if they’re being chased by wolves.
“We knew if we kept hitting them in the mouth and kept that tempo up, somewhere [App State] would give,” center Nick Linder told WQAM.
UM amassed 549 yards in total offense and has outscored opponents, 153-23, this season.
• An aggressive, swarming defense that allows players to attack, not read and react. As we noted on Twitter, it’s telling that Chad Thomas – UM’s only remaining five-star player – has more sacks in three games under Diaz and respected defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski (two sacks) than in 16 games over two seasons under Mark D’Onofrio, when he had one sack.
Thomas had a career-high nine tackles today.
What’s more, UM already has 39 tackles for loss, largely because Diaz – who has a history of high TFL totals in past jobs – emphasizes this and allows his players to penetrate without hesitating. UM, which entered tied for first in the country in tackles for loss, had 66 TFLs all of last season.
Miami also had three sacks and limited Appalachian State to 241 yards of total offense.
And there’s this: UM’s run defense, aside from one drive Saturday, is clearly better. Appalachian State averaged 2.6 per carry (48 for 126) after averaging 4.1 per carry in its overtime loss to then No. 9 Tennessee a couple weeks ago. And remember, Appalachian State averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season.
• A bunch of returning players are appreciably better. Credit the players themselves and the coaches for this.
Kaaya (21-27, 368 yards), Mark Walton (16-130, including an 80-yard touchdown run on UM’s first offensive play from scrimmage), Braxton Berrios (great sideline catch), Stacy Coley (5 catches, 85 yards, two touchdowns including one from 55) all look like better players. So do the starting offensive linemen, who usually gave Kaaya plenty of time to throw.
On defense, a bunch of returning players are clearly better – Demetrius Jackson, Richard McIntosh Jr, Kendrick Norton (key tackle for loss on a fourth down), Sheldrick Redwine and others.
• A handful of key freshmen are playing like upperclassmen. Again, credit both the players and the coaches for this. Linebackers Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud have been very good, and Ahmmon Richards was brilliant today, with 4 catches for 142 yards.
“He’s ridiculous - that’s all I’m saying,” fullback Marquez Williams said of Richards.
• Reaction from Richt afterward, courtesy of WQAM: “They showed up and did what they were supposed to do.
“Great defense for sure. Guys came with an attitude, took care of business. For a team that runs the ball as well as they do, that’s a resounding victory and a tremendous job by the defense. It’s hard to get this team to have any negative yardage plays, but you get them out of their comfort zone, that’s when you get sacks and tackles for loss...
“We started with the right attitude, very physical play. Our defense held them, forced a punt, and the first play of that drive to go 80 yards, nothing like it, and to run a power play and to have a back [Walton] break a tackle and take it to the house, it was beautiful....
“Ahmmon had a dropped deep ball in Game 1. He caught two of them [today], which was beautiful. I’m proud of him....
“Brad did a good job. I know he would like that [goal-line INT] back. I would like the call back. Hopefully he didn’t get hurt too badly. I think he’s fine. Hopefully he is. But you never know what the next day will bring.”
(Kaaya was injured on that goal line pick and limped off. He said afterward that his knee is a little swolen but there’s no ACL damage).
More Richt: “We’re creating depth by allowing young people to play. It’s good for morale and good for the depth of our team... We truly don’t care who scores them, but [Coley] is an outstanding player and a guy we want to target some balls to and it worked out well for him.”
• A few other numbers: Joe Yearby ran 8 times for 30 yards, including a touchdown, and Gus Edwards ran 4 times for 14 yards… Malik Rosier played in the fourth quarter and completed his only pass for 17 yards…. David Njoku caught three passes for 69 yards, including a touchdown and Harris 5 for 48.
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