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Miami Hurricanes receivers working through Growing Pains

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Inconsistency, a sign of immaturity     

Miami v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The #8 Miami Hurricanes have had a lot of question marks regarding their offensive production during their 6-0 start. The primary concerns surrounding the Canes’ offense have been slow starts, offensive lulls and an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. During each play there are numerous factors that must be considered on why a play was or was not successful. In the passing game it takes a good snap, good blocking, the right quarterback read with a good throw, correct ball placement to the correct route, and then, the catch must be made. To be successful on offense, a team must complete these steps flawlessly and at a high rate. The Canes aren’t completing these steps at a rate that fans, players, and most importantly the coaches are happy with. Coach Mark Richt stated during his post game interviews “a lot of the time we had opportunities to make plays and didn't make them…you become consistent when you throw and catch like you should".

Before I dig into the offensive issues. I want to point out that the Hurricanes are currently 6th in Red Zone Offense, 21st in Total Offense, 26th in Passing Offense and in the top 30% in Scoring Offense and Passing Efficiency out of the NCAA’S 129 FBS teams. But why the struggles? The biggest contributor to the Canes offensive woes is the callowness and inexperience at the skill positions. While this group is beyond talented, they are young, and immaturity breeds inconsistency.

The Receiving Group: The Canes have a rotation of eight receivers, based on at least 10 targets through 6 games. This group is led by two seniors, Braxton Berrios and TE Christopher Herndon. These two are fully embracing their new roles in the offense. Berrios is finally able to play the slot full time and Herndon is thriving as the #1 TE after playing second fiddle to David Njoku (now in the NFL). They have caught 72% of their 89 targets for 7 TDs.

Miami v Florida State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Darrell Langham is the only junior and spent his first two seasons on the practice squad. As noted by Coach Richt, he plays the same spot as Ahmmon Richards which is why his emergence came following Richards’ injury. He’s caught 58% of his 19 targets with 2 TDs. While he has a low number of targets, he has been the man in critical moments.

The sophomore class includes All-American talent Ahmmon Richards who has spent the majority of 2017 recovering from a hamstring injury. He is currently only catching 50% of his 38 targets. This group also includes Dionte Mullins and Lawrence Cager. This year is their first year of real action. Mullins was on the practice squad, and Cager missed 2016 due to an injury. They have caught 40% of their 32 combined targets.

Last but not least, the freshmen class is comprised of speedsters Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley. Thomas has started the season well, catching 71% of his 14 targets with 1 TD. Harley on the other hand has struggled, only catching 39% of his 18 targets.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Overcoming Struggles: Unfortunately, there is no magical formula or cheat code that the Canes can use to overcome their offensive woes. It is going to take old fashion hard work and development. When Mark Richt was asked about these struggle he stated “we just gotta continue to work”. While it sounds like “coach speak” this statement is true. As the Canes get deeper into the season, these receivers can only get better as they get more opportunities.

Slow Starts: During the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Florida State Seminoles games the Canes were plagued with slow starts. They scored a combined 13 points in both halves. During the first half of the GT game, the Canes completed 7 of 15 passes to the following WRs: Harley (4 Targets/0 Catches), Herndon, (3T/2C), Thomas (1T/1C), Mullins (2T/1C), Berrios (2T/2C), Langham (2T/1C) and Cager (1T/0C). On the lone touchdown drive to end the first half of GT, the Canes only utilized Herndon, Mullins, Berrios and Langham and went a combined 5 of 6.

Solution: The solution to the Canes’ slow starts can be overcome by personnel changes. The targets during the only first half TD of GT and FSU were the same targets that contributed to the Canes fast start of 13 points against the Syracuse Orange with the addition of Richards. Starting the game with these hot hands can lead to more production early in games.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Offensive Lulls: The Canes have experienced periods of no offensive production in most games, but most noticeably during the games against the Duke Blue Devils and the Toledo Rockets. This challenge will be harder to overcome, because the Canes substitute freely to keep everyone fresh and to give quality repetitions.

Solution: Players have to execute. As coach Richt stated “There [are] no magical plays...it’s about the execution of the calls.” If those receivers with under 50% catching percentage can increase their production, the offensive lulls will greatly decrease.

Red Zone Execution: Red zone execution was a huge problem against Syracuse and showed up during Georgia Tech. This problem is a combination of both personnel and execution. During the GT game there were 3 fade route targets thrown to Harley (2) and Thomas (1). While you would expect these fade routes to be ran by our taller WRs like Langham, this route was successfully ran by Berrios (similar build to Harley and Thomas), during the FSU game. Execution was the issue with Syracuse with countless dropped balls.

Solution: See solution to slow start and lulls.

Miami v Florida State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

I will be the first to admit that in every game, the Canes’ offense has left a lot to be desired and I ask myself “what are they doing?” But at the end of the game, I check stats and they have over 400 yards and we won the game. The Canes are currently averaging 470 yds a game and 33.3 pts a game with room to grow. As Offensive Coordinator Thomas Brown said “you can never underestimate [the importance] of reps.” I fully expect these numbers to increase for 1 of 2 reasons going forward. First, as the younger WRs get more repetitions their focus will increase and they will start executing at a higher rate leading to more catches and points. If that doesn’t occur, then the second reason is that only those WRs that are being productive will see the field. The North Carolina game will serve as the perfect opportunity to get quality reps and improve.

Do you think the Canes Offense will improve? Let me know your thoughts.