Barry Jackson

As UM throttles Pittsburgh, ESPN implores Richt to implement new offense

Thoughts, notes, reaction and postscripts after UM’s 24-3 victory against Pittsburgh on Saturday in the regular season finale at Hard Rock Stadium:

▪ You know the saddest part of this season?

That the Hurricanes wasted a championship-caliber defense because of their feeble offense.

UM’s defense was superb on Saturday, putting an exclamation point on a season that should make coordinator Manny Diaz and his players extremely proud.

The Canes entered first in the country in tackles for loss (112), second in third-down conversion defense (25.3 percent converted into first downs), fourth in yards allowed per game (275), sixth in passing yards permitted per game (141.7), 11th in interceptions (15), 12th in takeaways (23), 20th in points relinquished per game (19.5) and 22nd in sacks (31).

The Canes then throttled a Pitt offense that scored 54 on Duke and 52 on Virginia Tech, limiting the Panthers to 115 yards (and no points) in the first half and just 200 yards for the game. Pitt averaged just 1.8 yards rushing (on 38 attempts) and was 1 for 15 on third down.

Senior Gerald Willis, junior Joe Jackson and sophomore Jon Garvin wreaked havoc on the defensive line. Jackson had 2.5 sacks, a terrific stop on a 3rd and 1, six tackles and was in the backfield for much of the day. He now faces a decision whether to turn pro, with the possibility of going on the second day of the NFL draft.

The linebackers were terrific, with Mike Pinckney and striker Romeo Finley making stupendous stops on third down plays. Cornerbacks Michael Jackson had two sacks on blitzes and safety Jaquan Johnson - who gave an inspiring speech to the team on Saturday night - forced a fumble.

Keep in mind that the four teams who entered Saturday either ahead of UM – or just behind the Canes – in total defense were a combined 41-6 as of 7 p.m. Saturday: Michigan (10-2), Clemson (11-0), Mississippi State (8-4) and Alabama (12-0).

That UM lost five games with this defense is depressing for Canes fans and another indictment of an offense that entered 93rd in the country among 130 FBS schools, a ranking that would be substantially lower without the 77-0 thumping of Savannah State.

▪ Here’s one of the most frustrating parts of this season:

The fact it took injuries to all of UM’s tight ends to force UM to play mostly a spread offense, as was the case on Saturday.

At least three times during Saturday’s broadcast, ESPN analyst Ahmad Brooks implored UM to stick with it as its primary scheme, though Richt’s comments to Clemson’s Kelly Bryant suggest that’s not especially likely.

“This is the right offense for Miami,” Brooks said of the spread. “I would like to see Miami stick with this system. It fits N’Kosi Perry’s skill set better. It fits the skill set of your recruits in the state better. If Miami is running the spread, look out – Talk about stacking up some Coastal titles. That’s easy money for them....

“In a spread offense, more people touch the football. When you are out selling your program, you can say we’ve got plenty of balls to spread around. We will give you your touches and we can match what you were doing in high school. This is the offense that fits the U the best. This is the right system for [Perry].”

Meanwhile, ESPN sideline reporter Roddy Jones, the former Georgia Tech receiver, said he believes UM’s offensive players simply haven’t bought into Richt’s preferred offense.

But Richt refused to answer when I asked him recently about whether he would consider going to a spread offense permanently. And Richt’s normal day-after- game-conference call won’t be held this week, so there won’t another opportunity to ask big picture state-of-the-program questions anytime soon.

But it was telling that Richt played this offense as his primary scheme only because he had no other choice in the wake of injuries to all his tight ends.

And it’s also telling that before Bryant canceled his visit, he suggested UM will stick its current offense.

“He just tells me [about their] philosophy, pro-style but mixing with the spread and [run-pass option],” Bryant said.

▪ Perry’s numbers were dismal (6 for 24, 52 yards) but could have been a lot better if his receivers had given him any help. Canes receivers dropped seven passes.

“I can’t blame nobody but myself; I’ve got to be more accurate with the ball,” Perry told WQAM’s Don Bailey Jr.

Perry - who threw no touchdowns or interceptions - admirably took the blame in his radio interview, but I can’t recall Canes receivers being so unreliable.

UM entered the game with astounding 31 dropped passes, per Herald correspondent Daniel Gould, and Lawrence Cager, Darrell Langham, Dee Wiggins, Mike Harley Jr. and Evidence Njoku all dropped passes.

Jeff Thomas, who was UM’s most dynamic weapon, had seven drops before being dismissed by the team last week. Cager now has nine drops on the season.

What’s more, Cager appeared to run the wrong route on another play. “Cager has to turn around the catch the friggin ball,” Brooks said.

▪ Travis Homer was UM’s offensive MVP Saturday and likely for the season, closing the Pitt game with 168 yards on eight carries (an absurd 21 yards per carry).

Homer did excellent work hitting the hole on a 47-yard run early in the game and a 64-yard touchdown burst that put UM up 17-3 late in the third. Tackle DJ Scaife and receiver Brian Hightower had exceptional blocks on that TD run.

Both runs showed how effectively UM can run the ball in the spread, with fewer defenders clogging the middle of the field.

Perry also had a 41-yard run that also worked in part because of the spread formation (and some nifty blocks).

▪ Brooks said he asked Richt how long does it take to implement his system. “Until guys mature and can handle it,” Richt said.

Brooks then said: “A lot has to be about how you teach them and develop and that’s where some of the old school coaches don’t always adapt.”

▪ Not sure why UM didn’t try a screen pass until late in the third quarter. Homer scampered 11 yards with the first screen of the game, then bolted 64 yards for his touchdown run on the next play.

And I’m not sure why Homer had only five carries through three quarters on a day the passing game was so inefficient.

UM smartly ran a play out of the Wildcat late, with DeeJay Dallas at the controls. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown is responsible for weaving the Wildcat into the Canes’ offense.

▪ Richt, on WQAM: “Could not get it going throwing and catching. For the most part, we protected pretty good.... N’Kosi, we’ve been trying to tell him when he gets a quarterback run, don’t be afraid to run more than 5-10 yards... He made a lot of good decisions throughout the game. We either put it on the money and dropped it or missed it when they’re open... We’re playing a bunch of pups. When they grow up, they’re going to be special...

“We’re just feast or famine. We bang it in there and don’t get a whole lot. And then, boom [a long run]. We had some really good blocking downfield by our receivers.”

▪ In a scene reminiscent of Al Golden’s final year at Miami, a fan-financed banner flew above a Hard Rock Stadium parking lot an hour before the game and called for Richt to make staff changes.

Saturday’s banner said: “$4 million for this? Thou shalt not steal. Time for a new OC and QB [coach] .”

An out-of-state businessman who contacted the Miami Herald said he was the ringleader of the group that paid $500 to fly the banner.

He said 18 people combined to cover the costs and the donations of seven others will be used to fly another banner thanking Richt if he agrees to make staff changes.

The businessman, who did not want his name used, said the fans behind the banner want Rich to hire an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach and change his offensive scheme.

He said that none of them “feel good about doing this on senior day” but that the group of fans were “sick of the ineptitude” of the team’s offense.

UM fans began flying banners calling for change in 2014. The initial one, that appeared before a home game against Cincinnati that year, said: “Fire Al Golden. Save the U.”

Then multiple banners appeared before games the following season, including: “Make Miami great again -- Butch Davis 2016” and “C’mon, #FireAlGolden. These banners are getting expensive” and “I flew 1,124 miles just to say, #FireAlGolden.”

Golden was fired in October 2015 after a 58-0 loss to Clemson.

Richt has been non-committal about whether he will make staff changes and has indicated no interest in giving up play-calling duties, while not completely ruling it out.

▪ Tidbits: UM closed 7-5 and will learn its bowl assignment on Dec. 2… Dallas’ three-yard run to end the scoring was his seventh touchdown of the season... Richt: “Jaquan is without a doubt one of the best safeties, if not the best safety in America.”...

UM opened with a four-receiver set: Langham, Cager, Harley and Brian Hightower… Tito Odenigbo finished the season as the starting defensive tackle opposite Willis… Venzell Boulware and Navaughn Donaldson started at guard ahead of Hayden Mahoney and Jahair Jones….

UM didn’t have a penalty until an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Quarterman with 5:28 left in the quarter. Two plays later, Sheldrick Redwine was called for pass interference.

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