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Is Miami at a “Year 0” Crossroads?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Defining “Year 0”: When a new manager takes over a program/project and needs time to transform the program from the old philosophy to his/her new philosophy. Thus, the initial results should be viewed as a “wash.”

Who could have thought that the one weakness on a team could bring the whole show to a stop, right? I mean, we all knew the offensive line would struggle but this badly? Jeez. For me what’s scary is I don’t really know if it’s the coaching staff not developing the players, the coaching philosophy not fitting to the players’ talent or just the talent on hand being really deficient for the position openings (meaning having zippy offensive tackles on the roster).

For me, the only thing I can think of is it’s a little of everything but if I had to pick one issue to focus on in our discussion I’d go with overall offensive line philosophy not meshing with the players on hand. When I think of the Mark Richt offensive line philosophy at Georgia I think of big, mammoth sized road graders who plowed open running lanes for Nick Chubb, Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and those backs before them. Running backs wouldn’t get touched running the ball until they were two or three yards passed the line of scrimmage because the lanes were so wide. What we’re seeing now is just sheer talent on hand by Mark Walton and Joe Yearby to make running lanes for themselves to get yardage. Unless there’s a defensive breakdown in gap responsibilities this offensive line isn’t being successful.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there is optimism for the future (I hope). Currently Richt already has a top offensive lineman verballed for next season in Navaughn Donaldson and guess what, his measurables (per ESPN) are 6’6” 345 pounds. There are a few more big (pardon the pun) targets out there that Miami is recruiting who fit the same mold as Donaldson: big, fast linemen with a mean streak. So if Miami can pull one or two more of the high quality, ready to play linemen the line could see some marked improvement by next season.

Switching gears to the defense.. I have nothing but good things to say about that side of the ball. Manny Diaz has done a sensational job with what he has to work with. Corn Elder is playing out of his mind as a sure tackler on the outside and if you take away the two or three coverage breakdowns per game, the secondary is playing really well.

The defensive line for me is interesting. This is very much a group effort this season. When I think of Kuligowski coached defensive lines I usually think of one player being the “bell cow” or the alpha who paces the group with QB sacks and pressures but overall it seems like this group is getting into the action as a collective bunch. Chad Thomas is playing better this season but he’s not head and shoulders above Trent Harris, Joe Jackson or any of his other teammates on the line of scrimmage.

Lastly, the linebacking unit is playing well with what they have to work with. Three freshmen starting with a previously injured player as the main backup in Darrion Owens and you’re riding with that for the season? Good luck. Diaz is making it work though and they’re playing well; not many missed tackles and their coverage of running backs and tight ends hasn’t had glaring issues besides a rare mistake here or there.

My last thought on the first half of the season revolves around players leaving early, namely Brad Kaaya and David Njoku. Brad Kaaya can go pro but I don’t think he should go pro. The reason I think Kaaya “can” go pro is that many NFL scouts are salivating over his tangibles and measurables. He’s been a starter since his freshman season, he plays in a pro-style offense so it won’t necessarily take him a long time to get adjusted to an NFL playbook. However, has anyone seen anything truly positive from him this season? I know the offensive line isn’t helping him and his perimeter playmakers are dropping passes at an alarming rate the last two weeks but Kaaya isn’t helping himself either. I don’t have the stats in front of me but besides the APP State game, has he been successful throwing the ball 20 + yards down the field? Has he been accurate? I haven’t seen it. That fourth and one throw that was woefully behind Njoku last Saturday evening is a bad highlight that pro scouts will have to take pause on.

Njoku is a tad bit harder to grade because the ball isn’t in his hands at all times like it is with Kaaya. In the end I could see why Njoku may opt to skip his senior year at this point as his skills seem ready made for the next level but he may err on the side of caution. He hasn’t had the year many had hoped (up to this point anyways) hauling in a meager 14 catches for 232 yards and just one touchdown. For a matchup nightmare the yard per catch average is where you want it to be (16.6 yards per catch) but besides that, the numbers are pedestrian to what he could be posting. If he has a breakout second half of the season he’ll probably jump to the next level but if he continues with the drops and continues to be bottled up by the opposition in the passing attack, it may be best to come back for another year of seasoning.

There are players on the roster that Mark Richt can work with to move forward and be successful in future seasons. To me Miami fans need to accept this is very much a “year zero” scenario. Richt needs to bring his type of players into the program so he can mold the program into what he envisions. The current framework of the team he’s working with doesn’t fit what he wants. Unfortunately we all need to be patient (you know.. “Miami” and “patient” go together well) and see how this team looks in two or three seasons when the team has been given a facelift and reflects what Richt wants as a program rather than what he has been given by the previous regime.

What do you think? Does Richt and his staff have enough players to make a run right now? Should we reflect on Richt in a few years? Leave your comments below!