A half dozen takeaways from UM’s demoralizing 16-13 loss at Virginia on Saturday:
▪ As was the case when Adam Gase was hired by the Dolphins, the internal expectation was that Mark Richt would not only be an upgrade as a head coach but also would be the brains behind an improved, more creative and more effective offense.
The expectation was that quarterback play also would flourish, based on both Gase’s and Richt’s backgrounds.
More than 2 ½ years into their tenures, their offenses have shown no improvement over what preceded them.
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But at least Gase has the excuse of his quarterback being sidelined by injury last season and his offensive line being wrecked by injury this year.
Richt has no such excuse.
His offensive line, fully healthy, remains a mess, torpedoed by miscalculations in recruiting (by both the current and former regimes) and an apparent inability to develop what talent they have, even after Richt convinced the administration to outbid others for offensive line coach Stacy Searels.
And the quarterback play was substandard on Saturday, marking the fourth time that was the case in UM’s previous seven games against Power 5 conference teams.
Look, I had no issue with Richt lifting N’Kosi Perry after he opened 3 for 6 with two interceptions. As long as UM has a chance to win the Coastal Division, every decision needs to be made with the thought of winning that game, not worrying about 2019 or damaging Perry’s psyche. (And give Perry more credit than to assume his confidence would be shot by being benched for a night.)
“Malik [Rosier] was better equipped to handle what was going on,” Richt told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr.
Rosier did lead three scoring drives but only one for a touchdown, and his accuracy was typically uneven before a late flurry, closing 12 for 23 for 170 yards and an interception. And Rosier received only occasional help from an offensive line that repeatedly missed blocks and committed penalties, including infractions by freshman D.J. Scaife on consecutive drives to start the second half.
With UM quarterback coach Jon Richt on record as saying the Hurricanes are no longer pursuing a quarterback in the 2019 class (after top target Michael Johnson Jr. chose Penn State), Richt must hope Perry or Jarren Williams is the longterm answer. (I wouldn’t bank my hopes on Cade Weldon, who threw five interceptions in UM’s final August scrimmage and now is serving a four-game suspension.)
If both Richts are wrong on Perry and Williams, this is going to be a disappointing, angst-filled next three years. Don’t rush to judgment on Perry based on 1 ½ bad quarters in his first road start. The young man is allowed a mulligan.
But here’s the bigger picture concern with Richt’s offense:
Miami hasn’t reached 30 points offensively in any of its last seven games against Power 5 conference teams. Miami scored 14 against Pittsburgh, 3 against Clemson and 24 against Wisconsin to close last season.
This year, Miami had 17 against LSU, 26 against North Carolina (the 21 other points were scored on defensive touchdowns), 28 against FSU and 13 against Virginia.
That’s not good enough during this new age of college football when many teams put up video game numbers on offense. And it might surprise you that UM averaged more points in its final three full seasons under Al Golden (31.4, 33.8 and 29.2) than it did last year under Richt (29.1, which ranked 59th in the country).
The case could have been made to run more early Saturday, but when Richt began to go more to the ground game, the offensive line usually malfunctioned, aside from Jahair Jones and Tyree St. Louis delivering strong blocks on Travis Homer’s 70-yard run.
ESPN analyst Kelly Stouffer wondered why Richt didn’t use more misdirection plays – a shortcoming of Virginia’s defense –and didn’t make more use of tight end Brevin Jordan in the middle of the field until late in the game.
Richt called a couple of smart screen plays to the short side of the field on UM’s one touchdown drive, but it wasn’t enough.
He should have called more designed runs for Rosier, considering that’s his greatest strength. More bubble screens, which often have been effective when Richt has called them, might have helped. So might a gimmick or two, including reverses to Jeff Thomas.
Thomas had only a couple touches on offense (one drop, one catch for five yards) and that’s not nearly enough for UM’s most explosive playmaker.
“They did a great job double covering Jeff the whole game,” Rosier told WQAM’s Bailey.
And UM’s reshuffled right side of the line –with Scaife starting at tackle and Navaughn Donaldson moved to guard – was underwhelming. But the offensive line’s problems weren’t limited to those two.
Guard Hayden Mahoney committed a damaging penalty, negating a long Dee Wiggins catch. And center Tyler Gauthier allowed pressure that contributed to Rosier’s interception.
“I talked to the offensive line and said when we’re great, we’re running the ball,” Rosier said.
Aside from the 70-yard run by Homer, UM gained 79 yards on its other 28 carries, just 2.8 per carry. Deejay Dallas managed just 24 yards on 10 carries.
The shame of all this is that UM has lost five games in 1 1/2 years with a defense that ranks among the nation’s leaders in several key categories and has 48 takeaways and a plus 20 turnover differential during that span.
If Perry doesn’t rebound from this hiccup and play well the rest of the year, the fans’ chants for a new quarterback coach will assuredly grow louder.
But they will fall on deaf ears.
It would be almost unfathomable for Richt to move on from his son, Canes quarterbacks coach Jon Richt, and the UM administration won’t force his hand.
And it’s far too soon to make any conclusive judgment on Jon Richt; let’s see how the Richts’ two hand-picked quarterbacks (Perry, Williams) do over the next three years.
But this much is clear: This offense isn’t nearly good enough to win anything significant this year. And though the coach has had a bit of bad luck – primarily the career-ending neck injury to Ahmmon Richards – the onus is squarely on Richt to solve it.
Richt, incidentally, said everything will be evaluated during the upcoming bye week and was non-committal about who would start at quarterback Oct. 26 at Boston College.
Susan Miller Degnan will have more Richt reaction in her game story from Charlotesville.
▪ There were two inexcusable penalties to close the game: Tito Odenigbo’s personal foul penalty - prolonging Virginia’s final drive after the Cavaliers were stopped short on third down - qualifies as the dumbest play by a Canes player this season.
With the play over, Odenigbo shoved a Virginia lineman in the back, giving the Cavaliers a first down and the ability to run clock with 2:12 left.
“I will let coach [Manny] Diaz and coach [Jess] Simpson decide if there’s any kind of discipline for the penalty,” Richt told Bailey. “It’s an emotional game and he made an emotional decision and it was a bad one.”
But Trajan Bandy’s roughing the kicker penalty was equally damaging, allowing Virginia to run out the clock.
▪ UM’s top 10 preseason rankings clearly weren’t warranted. But what’s interesting is that the other big concern besides quarterback – the defensive tackle play after the departures of juniors Kendrick Norton and Richard McIntosh – hasn’t been an issue at all.
Miami (5-2) likely will fall out of the Top 25 for the first time in 23 weeks.
This program, at the moment, feels not much closer to national dominance than it did at the end of Richt’s first year – especially considering next year’s recruiting class has slipped to 21st in the Rivals rankings.
▪ Kudos to Sheldrick Redwine, who has more interceptions this season (three) than passes completed against him entering this game (two).
Diaz and safeties coach Ephraim Banda have done excellent work with the young man, and Redwine also deserves a ton of credit. And Bandy’s interception, despite a 6-inch height disadvantage in coverage, was a beautiful play.
▪ Once again, UM was victimized by college football’s foolish rule requiring automatic ejection for players who commit a targeting penalty. Michael Jackson’s penalty, while probably targeting, wasn’t egregious. There needs to be more nuance in the rule, just as the NBA exhibits with flagrant fouls.
▪ Quick stuff: Lorenzo Lingard handled kickoff returns, averaging a pedestrian 23 yards, and once again didn’t have a carry on offense. It might be time to change that… Freshman Dee Wiggins made his first start at receiver and had two catches for 16 yards. Brian Hightower was left home with an injury sustained in practice…
Mark Pope played more, as Richt predicted, and was targeted on a poorly-thrown deep ball from Rosier. Pope didn’t have a reception and UM receivers accounted for only six catches, including three by Lawrence Cager… The late onside kick backfired; “we didn’t execute it correctly and it changed field position and momentum,” Richt said.
If you missed it, please check out my column exploring the overriding reason why the Dolphins haven’t won much of anything this century.