It’s taken a long time for Miami to get here, in Charlotte playing for the ACC title.
14 years to be exact.
And up until last week, the Hurricanes were having the perfect season. Yes, there were some things that could have been changed: close games against inferior teams, missing plays that were there to be made on offense, blown assignments on defense, etc.
But, with a record of 10-0, this team, as a unit was perfect. Everything crumbled on Black Friday in Pittsburgh last week, with the Canes suffering an ugly, ugly loss featuring some downright terrible individual performances.
Now, the team has to regroup quickly and refocus on the little details and fundamentals that turn good teams into great one.
That task was made a wee bit more difficult with the injury news that came out of the Hecht Center this week: TE Chris Herndon, who left the Pittsburgh game in the third quarter with a knee injury, suffered an MCL tear that, as a senior, would end his college career.
A few days later, it was star receiver Ahmmon Richards being carted off Greentree practice field with a torn meniscus. Out for the season.
That’s the 2nd and 3rd leading receivers for the Miami Hurricanes gone in an instant, in addition to Mark Walton, who has been out since FSU with a leg injury. As they prepare to face their toughest challenge yet this year, the Canes will be without arguably their three best offensive players.
And say what you want about Richards being hobbled all season anyways: his absence will absolutely make a difference on Saturday. Richards is constantly drawing double-teams and attention in his direction, thereby opening up the field for Herndon, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Thomas, and others. He was an all-round threat, able to work the short game and shake tight coverage as a possession receiver, while also showing the ability to blow the top off the defense and burn DB’s on a deep ball.
It will be a total team effort attempting to replace Richards. Without him, everyone else in the receiving corps will have to bring their “A-game”. Thomas needs to use his speed and get behind coverages, while early-season hero Darrell Langham, Lawrence Cager, and Dayall Harris will be relied on to churn out yardage and work the chains.
Michael Irvin II is basically the new starting tight end by default, after former Miami tight end Jovani Haskins spent time in Mark Richt’s doghouse and transferred to WVU in the spring. As a UM legacy, Irvin II hopes to come even somewhat close to his famous father’s career at Miami, but he’s had to overcome some early hiccups.
As a freshman last season, Irvin II got himself suspended for Miami’s bowl game against WVU, and then showed up to spring ball overweight and out of shape to begin his redshirt freshman campaign. This season, the former St. Thomas Aquinas star was held out of the Syracuse game for undisclosed reasons.
“Irvin hasn’t done what he’s supposed to do off the field and until he does, we won’t let him play,” Mark Richt said in response to Irvin II’s absence.
He returned the next week against UNC and has posted five catches for 56 yards in a limited backup role spelling Herndon this season. But in the biggest moment of the year for Miami, now the spotlight is on Irvin II.
“We don’t want him to be Chris Herndon, because I don’t think he can be,” Berrios said. “He can only be Michael Irvin. And anything he can do to help us win, that’s what he’s going to do.”
Herndon was a master of the short bubble screen pass Mark Richt is so fond of. Most important on a bubble screen is recognizing the coverage the defense is in pre-snap at the line of scrimmage. If the defense is playing soft coverage or to stop the run, the receiver must recognize it and be on the same page as the QB to take advantage of that.
Irvin II has shown he can execute this concept, most notably taking a bubble screen for a first down against UVA. But can he be as consistent as Herndon? And will he be able to hold up in the blocking phase of the game? Those will be some of the key aspects to keep your eyes on during Saturday’s tilt against Clemson.
Some expect Richt to utilize more “4-wide” personnel to offset the loss of Herndon. While I believe we’ll see slightly more of that, especially if Miami is down late, don’t anticipate a full-scale change in offensive approach for the Canes.
“We’ve got to do what we do. We’ve hardly run a snap in two years without a tight end. So it’s very important to our offense,” Richt said.
It’s all hand on deck this week for Miami. With everything on the line, the Canes can’t afford to have even one weak link.