Barry Jackson

UM embarrassed in Pinstripe Bowl, and Richt making it very difficult for his boss

On another depressing day for Hurricanes football, we’re not going to talk about the need to inject fresh ideas into this UM offense.

Or the need to try something different after another deplorable offensive display.

Or the need to procure better players, starting at quarterback.

Or the compelling case that could be made to implement a spread offense (the type that Washington State’s Gardner Minshew – who had no Power 5 offers when he signed with East Carolina three years ago – engineered while averaging 373 passing yards per game this season – 196 more per game than UM generated through the air even before Thursday’s 48-yard debacle).

Why?

Because all of that is painfully obvious, and we’ve made all of these points before, and we’re not going to sound like a broken record, not even after another embarrassing offensive effort in Thursday’s humiliating 35-3 Pinstripe Bowl loss to Wisconsin in which UM mustered just six first downs, was outgained 406-169 and crossed midfield three times in 13 possessions.

And frankly, the more fans, trustees, journalists and TV analysts call for change, the more Mark Richt seems to dig in against substantive change.

But we will say this: Richt is making the job of his bosses very, very difficult, and at the very least, he should feel an obligation to do right by them.

How exactly can athletic director Blake James and senior associate AD Jesse Marks persuade fans to donate, or buy season tickets or support the program enthusiastically if their coach doesn’t make changes, or at the very least, clearly and patiently explain to fans and donors and recruits how he plans to fix an offense that entered 92nd in the country and will slide further after Thursday’s abysmal showing against a defense that allowed 44 points to Iowa and 37 to Minnesota in its past two games.

When the Heat is struggling, the media can count on Pat Riley taking accountability and specifically explaining his vision in a lengthy meeting with reporters.

Richt, UM football’s CEO, apparently feels no obligation to explain that vision publicly – even though James has given him everything he needs to be successful. But his bosses – if they won’t demand scheme or staff changes – need at least to demand that. (UM president Julio Frenk isn’t interested enough in football to get involved, a high-ranking UM trustee said.)

When I recently asked Richt how he’s going to fix the team’s offense, he said: “Right now, we plan on getting better with what we do and continuing to recruit players and playmakers. The better we develop our players, the better they execute [what we do], the better we will be offensively.”

Somebody else then jumped in with an unrelated question, and that was the end of it.

I understand James not forcing Richt to make staff or scheme changes and that’s not uncommon for athletic directors.

But Richt must know that he makes James’ job infinitely more difficult – and the environment around the program considerably more unpleasant – if he doesn’t give an impatient UM fan base some tangible plan, some substantive solution and any reason to believe this downward spiral will stop.

This is not an accountability issue - after all, after Thursday’s game, Richt said: “It starts with me. That’s where the buck stops.” This is an issue of doing what’s necessary to make it better.

Asked after Thursday’s game if he’s thinking of bringing in some coaching help on offense, he said: “I’ll just say this: Things have got to get fixed and that will be a priority.”

Perhaps Richt will surprise us all and be proven right if he returns doing mostly what he’s doing offensively, and sticking with these coaches and a pro-style set, mixed with some spread, and some modest tweaks and perhaps a new quarterback, if he can lure a grad transfer. Or stick with calling plays, which worked out just fine for Dennis Erickson in winning two championships at UM. Or perhaps he will surprise us and make major changes after implying that he wouldn’t.

But if he makes no staff or scheme changes and if the Hurricanes offense falters badly against UF in the 2019 opener, this atmosphere around Canes football will grow even more toxic and I shudder to think what attendance will be against Bethune Cookman and Central Michigan in the second and third games of the season.

Richt owes it to the administration to do something, anything, that indicates there’s a plan to fix this and then execute that plan. And he owes it to them to clearly explain that vision to an angry fan base, which has no incentive to support this program financially if they believe the coach is doing nothing to fix this.

UM closed 7-6 and is now 7-9 since winning 15 in a row, including 3-9 against Power 5 teams.

If Richt is right in thinking Rosier – who was awful Thursday – gives the Canes the best chance to win, that’s terrifying for the future.

Rosier ran for 90 yards on three carries but was dismal through the air (5 for 12, 46 yards, three interceptions).

Perry - who wasn’t suspended but wasn’t allowed to participate in some team drills last week - was no better, throwing a bad interception and closing 1 for 5 for two yards. Richt said he didn’t think Perry was prepared to start.

Canes quarterbacks combined for a 4.4 passer rating, using the NFL’s system.

It’s puzzling why UM wouldn’t use freshman quarterback Jarren Williams, who would have benefitted from the work if he ends up starting against the Gators. Richt said he planned to play Williams late, but Wisconsin essentially ran out the clock.

Richt’s thoughts afterward, as shared with WQAM’s Don Bailey: “We can’t do that. We’ve got to respect the ball. You can’t throw the ball into harm’s way like that. Poor decisions. Poor throws. Plays that had a chance but we’ve got to do what we’re supposed to do. We got next to nothing going on offensively. Tough night... First two drives, they kind of had their way with us [defensively].”

It was encouraging that James made this strong statement after the game: “Our football team’s performance tonight - and at other times this season - is simply unacceptable to all of us who love the U. I am committed to getting UM football back to national prominence and that process is underway. We will compete for ACC and national championships and I know coach Richt is alongside me in that commitment to excellence.”

ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, the former NFL quarterback, didn’t repeat his November comments that UM must implement modern offensive concepts. But before a third and two, he implored Richt to use motions or stacked sets or “do some things to help your freshmen wide receivers.”

Instead, UM pitched four yards in the backfield to Travis Homer, who was tackled for a loss. Homer, receiving no help from his offensive line, had 16 yards on 10 carries.

Orlovsky later said UM “has weapons on the outside” and needs to do more to take advantage of that talent, including more use of screen passes.

Here’s what I have a difficult time reconciling when anyone says the spread offense isn’t the answer: We know UM runs better out of the spread. And we know lightly recruited quarterbacks such as Minshew become passing dynamos in that Washington State spread, throwing for 4477 yards, 36 TDs and nine picks this season. (Minshew said he was offered by Alabama when he picked Washington State after he transferred from East Carolina.)

The Canes exited early signing period in the mix for a half dozen high-end players, but after Thursday, it’s difficult to envision any picking Miami over winning programs such as Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia.

UM still has 11 spots to fill, and the question is whether the Canes can lure any three- or four-star recruits with those slots, or perhaps a talented grad transfer quarterback who would be an upgrade over what Miami already has.

UM’s defense, playing without Gerald Willis clogging the middle, was gashed early, then stiffened for a time, then wilted on a day Wisconsin ran through the Canes for 333 yards on the ground, on 5.7 per carry.

Nesta Silvera, out of position on one early play, had some good moments. Same with senior Tito Odenigbo, who was sealed off on two early big runs. But none of the defensive linemen were good enough against a savvy and imposing Wisconsin offensive line.

UM must hope Silvera, Jon Ford and Jordan Miller become the type of players the Canes hoped they were getting. Ford took a step back this year, but there’s reason for optimism on Silvera. Pat Bethel also returns.

At times, UM’s young defensive line – which missed Joe Jackson after he went out early with an injury – was overmatched against a Wisconsin offensive line that has 194 combined starts.

That’s another problem with this Canes program; this team never has a chance to get old together because of early departures, recruiting mistakes, transfers and other factors.

The experience factor – 21 years olds playing against 18 year olds – shouldn’t be underestimated, especially on the lines, where being more physically developed than your opponent is a big deal.

UM started Hayden Mahoney at center in place of Tyler Gauthier, who inexplicably missed the game for academic reasons even though he graduated two weeks ago.

But center Corey Gaynor entered on the third series.

Guard Navaughn Donaldson allowed a sack, capping a disappointing sophomore season.

Safety Jaquan Johnson had 13 tackles and an interception to complete a sterling career at UM. It was a disappointing sendoff for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who leaves Friday to focus entirely on his new job as head coach at Temple.

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