Barry Jackson

Why UM’s offense is even worse than last year’s in several key areas

When Manny Diaz landed the UM job, he spoke of fielding an offense that - like his defense - would be “fast and physical,” one that would make “defensive players uncomfortable.” He promised “our players will be well coached and execute.”

Two thirds into his first season, the problem that most needed to be solved in this program clearly remains an issue.

In fact, among six categories that are most commonly used to gauge offensive success, UM is worse than last year in three of them - and almost identical in points if you remove UM’s non-offensive TDs last season.

Mark Richt’s often-tepid offense averaged 28.8 points per game last season, which was 65th among 130 FBS schools. (It was a 26.1 if you remove the three defensive touchdowns and two special teams TDs last year; UM doesn’t have one of either this season.)

This year’s offense is producing 26.8 points per game, which is 84th. Against FBS teams, UM has gone from averaging 24.8 points per game in 2018 to 21.5 this season. Even if you add 21 points from seven missed field goals, UM’s offense would still rank well below average nationally.

“We haven’t had consistency in performance all the time,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Monday. “But when it’s time to win the game in the fourth quarter, we’ve been able to get cohesive and give our football team a chance to win.”

The winning drive against Pittsburgh, the game-sealing drive against Virginia, the go-ahead drive against Virginia Tech and two late drives against Georgia Tech (foiled by missed field goals) are legitimate reasons for encouragement. But the overall numbers are still well below average, except for passing yards.

Consider:

The running game has gone from averaging 191.5 yards per game (45th in the country) to 120.3 (114th).

On third downs, UM has gone from converting 39.4 percent (59th) to 27.7 (129th).

In the red zone, UM has gone from scoring touchdowns 58.1 percent of the time to 54 percent (20 TDs in 37 trips).

The two areas where there has been improvement? Miami is averaging 384.1 yards (84th in the country) compared with 358.8 last season, even after mustering just 208 against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

And offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who has a strong track record with quarterbacks, has helped Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry improve - one reason why Miami is averaging 263.9 passing yards per game (36th nationally) compared with 167 last season (112th).

But the offensive production isn’t nearly at the level this program should expect.

UM scored just 17 points against a Central Michigan team that allowed 31 points to Western Michigan and 21 to Albany.

UM mustered 16 points against a Pittsburgh team that allowed 34 points against UCF and 30 against Duke.

William and Mary and Old Dominion each scored as many points as Miami did against Virginia (17), with the Hurricanes’ defense spearheading that win against the Cavaliers.

Miami managed 21 points (with three easy missed field goals) against a Georgia Tech that allowed 41 to Duke.

Miami scored 25 points on a North Carolina defense that yielded 34 to Appalachian State.

Diaz was surprisingly upbeat about the offense on Monday.

“Has our offense given us a chance to win every game we’ve played?” Diaz asked rhetorically, suggesting it has. “Through eight games, we have had a chance to win every game we’ve played with how we’ve played on offense. The games even we haven’t won, we made big plays, big comebacks.

“If you had asked me in August what my expectation was, it would be an offense that fights and competes and always believes at the end of the game it always has a chance to win. We had five drives down the field the past three games in the fourth quarter. Two against Georgia Tech were missed field goals. But the two vs UVA and the game winner [vs UVA] . That’s kind of cool.”

And Diaz said “there are very good defenses in this league.”

So why haven’t the offensive problems been solved? Several factors:

▪ An offensive line that features not a single player who has exceeded expectations (and many haven’t even met them).

One coach on Miami’s staff told a close associate that he was stunned at the dearth of talent on UM’s offensive line when he arrived.

Though Zion Nelson has improved, he allowed another sack Saturday and leads all FBS offensive linemen in sacks allowed, with eight. Navaughn Donaldson has regressed. Corey Gaynor has been pushed back in the running back.

None of four-star prospects (Donaldson, Kai Leon Herbert, John Campbell, departed Cleveland Reed) has been as good as advertised.

Miami’s 33 sacks allowed are fifth most among 130 teams, and Canes linemen often were manhandled in the running game on Saturday.

The former staff made multiple misevaluations in recruiting, and the current staff hasn’t extracted more from the most-recruited players.

Still, Enos insisted Monday “I’ve been really pleased with the offensive line play. You can see with the confidence they’re playing with. They’re prepared each and every week. We’re getting better in a lot of areas and that’s no place we’re getting better [than o-line].”

▪ Inability to get the ball enough to UM’s highly-skilled tight ends.

This falls as much or more on the quarterbacks (who have missed them on several throws) and other factors than Enos.

Brevin Jordan, UM’s best offensive weapon, has just six catches for 78 yards in the past three games, including one for nine against Pittsburgh. Will Mallory, expected to break out this season, has three catches for 70 yards all season.

Enos confirmed he has needed to keep Jordan in as a blocker more than he would ideally like.

“I would like to get Brevin out on every route,” Enos said. “[But] Brevin is an outstanding blocker. We will continue to use him in protection. We want to get Brevin as many opportunities to get open and catch the ball as he can.”

As for Mallory, “it’s a little bit of bad luck,” Enos said. “We’ve had it open a few times and maybe errant throw or protection issues. He’s a really good player. There will be a game where we will say Will Mallory had a breakout game.”

▪ Jeff Thomas’ unreliability and lack of explosive plays in the passing game compared with a year ago.

One UM official said the Canes should have known Thomas couldn’t be trusted when Diaz agreed to bring him back. He’s completing a two-game suspension but doesn’t have a 40-yard play all season.

And Enos said the wide receiver play Saturday was “very inconsistent.”

▪ Third down ineptitude (26 for 94).

“The one that stands out is third down,” Diaz said of the offensive stats. “Part of that is when you have to drop back and throw the ball. We’re really good at third down avoidance. Our third downs have generally been longer yardage, where the odds are less. Everything else is trending upwards.”

▪ Quarterback play that’s decent but not great.

Coaches have been frustrated at times about open receivers being missed or not spotted. And though Williams has shown promise at times and should be starting, he has struggled with the deep ball and takes too many sacks. And you don’t see elite quarterbacks throwing three interceptions in one quarter as Williams did against Virginia Tech.

▪ Lack of elite talent beyond Jordan.

An NFL executive said among draft eligible offensive players, he believes only DeeJay Dallas will be drafted.

▪ Some decisions that can be questioned.

The slow-developing play-action plays, run under center, have often been counterproductive; on at least one of them Saturday, Perry’s unconvincing fake handoff gave Pitt more time to get to Perry on a pass rush, forcing an incompletion…

Enos’ decision to use shotgun on third and one Saturday backfired but worked on that fourth down…

The Canes have been too “cute” at times, including the handoff to Jordan and double-reverse to KJ Osborn in the red zone of recent games…. UM should have run the ball more in some games to compensate for shoddy pass protection.... And ESPN’s Louis Riddick on three occasions criticized Enos for using running plays that went to the perimeter against Virginia’s fast defense.

Enos and the players both bear responsibility for the supbar offensive performance, but I wouldn’t put most of the blame on Enos. Players say the offensive coaching is better than a year ago, and Williams (105.6 NFL passer rating) and Perry (92) have improved under his watch.

Remember, there’s no first- or second-day NFL draft talent on this offense except sophomore Jordan, potentially.

That said, Miami shouldn’t rank 129th in third down conversions (ahead of only UNLV).

Bottom line? The late-game drives have been encouraging, and I can understand Diaz wanting to keep it positive in discussing the offense.

But an offense averaging 27 points per game in this era of college football isn’t nearly good enough to contend for anything meaningful. And it shouldn’t be considered good enough here, whether these coaches want to admit it publicly or not.

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