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Clinic Talk: Mid-season review of the ‘Canes after the UNC loss

What have the ‘Canes done and where can they improve?

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Miami
Mark Richt with a look of “Wait, Kaaya won’t run?” on his face
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Game 7 of the 2015 season led to the former Hurricanes’ head coach Al Golden’s demise. Clemson worked Miami 58-0 and Golden was well on his way to being an assistant with the Detroit Lions. Miami was 4-2 heading into that Clemson game and that marked 4-3. On October 20th of 2016 the ‘Canes will be heading into their showdown with the Hokies in Blacksburg with a 4-2 record.

While Mark Richt won’t see his Miami tenure end with a loss, even a 58 point loss, this is a crucial match-up for the ‘Canes. As a coach, you look at your self-scout and try to assess what you’ve done so far this season. The ‘Canes have dabbled in a little RPO or Run Pass Option while running a lot of inside zone and finally some split zone.

During the 2016 campaign, Coach Richt has figured out that Brad Kaaya will not run in any capacity; not to scramble for a first, put the linebackers in a bind on sprint outs, or in the inside zone running game. It’s been the ‘Canes achilles heel when other teams do it, and their weak spot that Brad won’t. Kaaya is a statue and to have a stationary QB you need an elite offensive line and a stellar game plan. Think about the Seahawks/Broncos Super Bowl where Peyton Manning played like a rookie back-up against the Hawks attacking defense.

It’s hard to call plays when you have a bad offensive line. The ‘Canes OL is weak and unathletic. They’re not the guys Richt would’ve recruited to UGA and his strength program is far too new to make a huge impact this soon. But with that being said, the QB has to improve his awareness of situations and feel for the game. He has shown a flash, like the GIF below:

While the GIF above is poor QB pocket awareness, the GIF below is a display of a very poor feel for the game for a junior that’s had a ton of snaps under his belt. Kaaya with a terrible read here:

Kaaya has also failed at some clutch times like the FSU interception below:

But where the running game has faltered against UNC and FSU, and Brad has made some boneheaded throws or held the ball too long in key situations- it hasn’t all been bad. For instance, going away from a plain ass inside zone play (let’s not fool ourselves and label it zone read) and run a center/guard buck sweep like below:

The offense dominated Appalachian State, boat raced FAMU, and outscored FAU and Georgia Tech. But once the true competition started what’s happened. One thing is teams have started to accumulate enough film to get a true scouting report. At this point in the year you’ve shown teams enough of your strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies to be picked apart. Defensive Coordinators know which OL is the weakest, when you’ll throw play-action, and that Kaaya won’t run on inside zone so they squeeze and run blitz Miami forcing the backs to slow play and make poor cut back choices.

The kicking game has been really hit or miss. There have been three blocked kicks including two field goals and the game tying extra point vs FSU. The onside kick allowed against UNC (even if it was called off) and the return game hasn’t been explosive enough. Not to mention a 5th year senior snagging a kickoff and starting Miami’s first drive vs UNC at the -3 vs at the -35.

The defense has played well 90% of the time alternating between even and odd fronts and between using the front four for pressure and sending zone blitz packages to confuse the protection and get to the QB. Corn Elder has solidified himself as a 1st rounder with a good combine showing, Thomas and Willis have looked solid when healthy, and the Bermuda Triangle of freshman linebackers have flashed the Smith-Barrow-Armstead type athleticism and output. However, how does a program get into the position to start three freshman linebackers? Blame that on Coach Golden and the old regime.

Outside of a few big plays, the defense has done a fine job and should start to rely less on blitzing and more on their read-and-react abilities. Francois (FSU) and Trubisky (UNC) have shown why mobile QB’s are key in modern day college football. Both scrambled for big first downs, extended plays in key situations, and got to the corner to create plays against the Miami defense.


Miami can finish 2016 8-4 and work their way into a solid bowl game with momentum into 2017, when a real push for the ACC title should be an expectation and 2018 when #Canes fans can expect to be players in the final 4. What needs to be done?

The scheme has to grow and be built upon. The RPO game has been non-existent for two weeks and it’s going to be necessary to back defenses out of the box and give the OL some help in the run game. The game plan has to be well rounded on offense and not built solely on blitzing from the defense. Eventually the team needs to learn to read, react and finish tackles. Blitzing is not a fix for poor defensive alignment or poor tackling.