Barry Jackson

Miami Hurricanes with new plan at running back, eye-opening Golden-to-Richt change

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt in the first half as the Seminoles host the Miami Hurricanes at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday, October 7, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt in the first half as the Seminoles host the Miami Hurricanes at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday, October 7, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Some UM notes on a Tuesday:

• With Mark Walton out for the year, UM is comfortable giving lead back duties to Travis Homer, who is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt on 25 carries.

I asked offensive coordinator Thomas Brown if Homer is strong enough to shoulder a 15 to 20 carry load.

“No doubt,” Brown said. “He’s as tough as they come. He’s in phenomenal shape.”

But Brown said conditioning, and how the running game is going, will determine Homer’s workload and how carries are distributed.

Though the 5-11, 195-pound Homer isn’t physically imposing in street clothes, linebacker Shaq Quarterman said, correctly, that Homer “is physical. He will lower his shoulder on you. We love that about him. The first thing you see is speed. He’s not small but he runs big.”

Homer said he is 5 to 10 pounds heavier than when he arrived. “I’m a lot stronger.”

• UM shifted receiver DeeJay Dallas to running back Monday. Brown said he will have four backs available against Georgia Tech: Homer, Trayone Gray, Dallas and walk-on Crispian Atkins.

Freshman Robert Burns “has a ways to go” to get healthy after a spring shoulder injury, Brown said.

As for Gray, “he’s looking better than he’s ever looked,” Brown said. “We finally took the knee brace off. A 235-pound man that can run really fast when he wants to.”

• Of all the positive changes from the Al Golden era to the Mark Richt era, this is among the most encouraging:

This is a far better second half team.

During the final year and a half of the Golden era (all of 2014 and the first seven games of 2015 before his firing), UM outscored teams by just two points, 236 to 234 in the second half.

During the first 17 games of the Richt era, UM has outscored teams by a whopping 333-128 in the second half. Miami has been outscored after halftime only twice in those 17 games.

During this ongoing nine-game winning streak, UM has outscored teams 196-59 after halftime.

UM coaches made smart adjustments at halftime of the FSU game, using more four-receiver sets and spread elements and running more read options with Malik Rosier and more short, safe passing plays to their playmakers.

I asked Quarterman how often a defensive adjustment by coordinator Manny Diaz has made a real difference in the second half.

“About every game,” he said. “Even if we’re up at halftime, he sees things in the first half we don’t see. He makes awesome adjustments along with the rest of the staff that puts us in better positions to make plays in the second half. We come out even stronger.”

Offensive tackle Kc McDermott said something else has changed, too.

“The only thing you can say has changed is the way we approach the game,” he said. “I was talking to my family about this. We had the same situation like this against Florida State two years ago my sophomore year and the mindset was different.

“There was not once in this game where we sat there and said, “We might lose this game.’ We always sat there every time we came on the bench and said we’re going to be successful and win this game.”

Have coaches instilled this?

“It’s something that has been instilled not just by coaches but by players during summer conditioning,” McDermott said.

These teams also appeared better conditioned than former Canes teams, but that’s subjective.

Asked why his team has been very good after halftime and whether it’s because of great adjustments, Richt said:

“I don’t know if we make great adjustments. But I know we don’t panic at halftime. We don’t change everything at halftime. [The message is] relax and do what you’re supposed to do. I think the weather cooling down in the second half [of the past two games] has helped.”

• When Richt arrived, there were three receivers and two corners who didn’t appear likely to play much.

The receivers: Darrell Langham and Tyre Brady. The corners: Ryan Mayes, Terrance Henley and Michael Jackson.

Brady, Mayes and Henley all left the program. Langham and Jackson remained and both made major contributions Saturday against FSU.

Langham, of course, caught the winning touchdown. Jackson had an interception.

“Both needed to create better habits and gain confidence in themselves and the system and trust us as coaches,” Richt said of Langham and Jackson when asked about those five.

“Sometimes when things get rough guys want to go. There are times it may be better for a guy to move on. I’m for the kids. With Langham – [initially when Richt arrived], I was like I have him and Lawrence Cager 6-5 receivers and they’re not playing 6-5 … They’re playing 6-1. Use your body and your frame – if you are not super fast guy it’s hard to guard a big man.”

• Richt said Ahmmon Richards (hamstring) and Navaughn Donaldson (leg) are questionable for Saturday’s Georgia Tech game. Braxton Berrios is “sore” but will be “fine.”

Richt, on Berrios: “He’s got a heart of a lion. He has earned the right to say anything to his teammates and they all listen. They’ve always been like that. [But] after this one, they’re like, ‘this guy’s the real deal.’”

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