It’s reasonable for Canes fans to say this team is too talented to be playing this poorly on offense, with Miami 78th in yards per game and 102nd in passing yards per game among 130 FBS schools.
UM is too good, on paper, to be 5-4 and too good to be losing at home to Duke.
But with the loss of receiver Ahmmon Richards (UM’s most gifted player) to a career-ending neck injury, that offensive talent — the players who actually have been playing meaningful snaps - has been overestimated to an extent. What’s on the field for UM offensively most of the game is, for the most part, not elite talent.
Consider the starting lineup last Saturday against Duke. According to Rivals.com, not a single one of the Canes’ starting offensive players had a scholarship offer from Clemson, the ACC’s gold standard.
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According to Rivals, four had offers from Alabama — receiver Lawrence Cager (a pretty good player who hasn’t fulfilled expectations here, mixing catches with drops), Jeff Thomas (a potential game-changer who has just 9 catches for 51 yards combined the past four games partly because of poor quarterback and line play), tight end Brevin Jordan (has had some good moments but still making freshman mistakes) and running back Travis Homer.
But Homer likely wouldn’t be starting at Alabama, unlike here. When Mark Richt first saw Homer -- who orally committed to UM seven months before Richt took over -- he said he was shocked his starting running back was that small, knowing he looked nothing like the starting running backs he had at Georgia. Cager assuredly wouldn’t at Alabama, either.
And consider some of their other starters Saturday:
According to Rivals, UM was the only Power 5 conference school that offered a scholarship to Malik Rosier. None of these schools even offered him believing he would a backup quarterback, let alone a starter. So it’s no surprise Rosier’s completion percentage is second-worst among all Power 5 conference quarterbacks.
Rosier’s only other offers: Arkansas State, Furman, Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois, Southern Mississippi and Western Kentucky.
(At least Richt is starting N’Kosi Perry on Saturday at Georgia Tech. Though he hasn’t developed to the extent everyone hoped, he was highly-regarded coming out of high school, with offers from Virginia Tech and four Southeastern Conference schools including Georgia.)
Getting back to the other players who started Saturday against Duke:
Receiver Darrell Langham wasn’t rated a top 50 receiver by Rivals in his class and had offers from only UM and FSU. He’s not a starter on a top 10 caliber team.
Center Tyler Gauthier had offers only from UM and Central Florida, according to Rivals.
According to Rivals, freshman tackles D.J. Scaife’s only other Power 5 conference offers — besides UM — came from N.C. State and Syracuse.
Guard Jahair Jones had four offers coming out of a junior college in 2015, including one from Ohio State, but wasn’t rated among the top 50 at his position coming out of high school.
Guard Hayden Mahoney, who has started much of the season but not Saturday, had offers only from UM, Akron, Boston College, Elon and Old Dominion.
The two starting tackles were recruited by major schools, with Navaughn Donaldson and Tyree St. Louis offered by UF.
On offense, UM actually has far more high-end recruits who are playing limited snaps or no snaps than those who are starting because of several factors: lack of experience (in most cases), lack of development (the coaches bear responsibility for this), injuries and in a few cases, poor evaluations.
On offense, they have nine four-star players and two five-star players who have either played limited snaps or not much at all. Seven of those players have played fewer than 25 snaps: quarterback Jarren Williams, offensive linemen John Campbell and Cleveland Reed and Kai-Leon Herbert and Bar Milo, running back Cam Davis and receiver Marquez Ezzard.
Some of those players — particularly Milo and Herbert — were overrated and probably shouldn’t have been given four stars. Same with running back Robert Burns, who was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals but a four-star player by ESPN. But player development also comes into play here, too, and that’s been lacking on the offensive line and quarterback, in particular.
Perhaps several of the top freshmen recruits should have played more, but Richt was adamant this week that he’s not going to play younger players if he has older ones who are better. And some of these young players didn’t convince the coaches that they were prepared enough to play more, in terms of knowing the playbook or running routes correctly, for example.
Of that aforementioned group of freshmen who haven’t played a lot, Richt indicated Thursday that Davis might get more playing time Saturday at Georgia Tech.
So among players on offense who are actually playing a lot, here’s my question:
Where’s the elite talent — players who would be starters now on great teams — beyond Thomas and Donaldson and maybe Jordan (who would begin his career as a backup on great teams)?
And Thomas’ effectiveness is minimized because of deficient quarterback play.
The loss of Richards to a career-ending neck injury has been hurtful, because “it’s much easier to try to double team a guy like Jeff Thomas if they’re not in fear of anybody else,” Richt said.
Now let me make this clear: Lack of elite talent among players who are actually playing is one of many reasons why the program has regressed. It’s far from the only.
Is the offensive line underachieving? Absolutely.
Should the play-calling be more creative? Undoubtedly.
Is player development lacking? In some cases, yes.
Does UM have enough offensive talent to beat Duke at home? Without question.
Is UM’s talent better than 5-4? Without a doubt.
And is Richt ultimately responsible for his roster? Yes.
But should UM assume it should win road wins at Virginia and Boston College?
No — even though that’s painful for Canes fans to hear — because those are road games against good teams, UM’s quarterback play and pass blocking are substandard, and don’t underestimate the impact of Virginia and BC having older rosters with players who have been in those systems a while and aren’t as likely to make mistakes.
UM privately believes that’s a huge difference, as we saw when UM was beaten by Wisconsin’s older roster in the Orange Bowl.
Ultimately, everything falls on Richt, who has made mistakes and needs to fix this. But don’t be deluded into thinking the players who are getting most of the snaps for UM’s offense, in totality, compare to the talent of the top 10 caliber UM teams of past eras.
Couple other notes:
▪ Richt is pleased the players on defense haven’t turned against players on offense.
“When it comes to team unity, guys having each other’s back and supporting each other and having that family we claim that we have, it’s times like this that normally reveal whether you have unity or not, whether you have strong family or not,” Richt said on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline.
“No matter how bad things seem to be, I think they’re doing a really wonderful job.”
▪ Richt says, in reality, “you need [your] top 60 guys to be really great ballplayers [to win big]. You have 85 on scholarship. You want every one of them to potentially become a ballplayer for you.”