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The story of a failing offense and how it got this bad

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The Hurricanes need to improve on offense in Chestnut Hill

Boston College Golden Eagles v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes offense has been in disarray throughout the 2018 season. Miami has struggled to run the football, pass accurately, or sustain a complete game of good offensive football. Mark Richt was supposed to save the Miami offense and bring stability into the program. Instead, the Hurricanes have lost ugly games to a 4-8 Notre Dame squad, a 5-7 Pitt Panthers team and the meh UVA Cavaliers.

Hurricanes fans wanted Butch Davis gone to the point that banners flew over the Orange Bowl that said “National Champs to National Chumps, Thanks Butch.” Butch Davis had a really bad scholarship reduced 1997 season that saw Miami slide into their first losing season since Howard Schnellenberger’s 1979 campaign. Davis eventually compiled the greatest collection of college football players ever to share a locker room that resulted in Larry Coker’s national championship victory in 2001.

Then Coker’s regime turned out to be smoke and mirrors akin to the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. If you pulled back the curtain it was a career assistant coach running the most talented group of players ever assembled. When those players departed Coral Gables for long NFL careers Coker was left trying to use the recruiting databases to fill his roster. Coker gave way to Randy Shannon, who gave way to Al Golden, who has given us Mark Richt- the only coach in the lot with Power 5 head coaching experience dating back to Dennis Erickson.

Here is the story of Miami’s offense and its subsequent demise that started at the hands of Larry Coker and Rob Chudzinski.


Hurricane Head Coach Larry Coker Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

Larry Coker

Then the wheels came off. Coker was unable to adjust to life after Ken Dorsey and his offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinksi had no adjustments in mind for a primarily shotgun quarterback in Brock Berlin. Berlin struggled working mainly under center in 2003 and Miami’s 6-10 loss to Tennessee, at home in the Orange Bowl, was a sign of bad things to come in Coral Gables.

The Miami offense under Coker was never revolutionary. It looked a lot like the offense that got Les Miles fired at LSU, and relied heavily on having more talent than your opponent. Meanwhile, at Nevada Chris Alt’s coaching staff toyed with an old Jerry Glanville pet project in the Pistol around the 2005 season. Chudzinksi didn’t have the creativity to put Berlin into a good position to be successful and Miami suffered in stubborn hands.

The S&P+ analytics system goes back to the 2005 season, the second to last under Larry Coker. By 2005, Coker was going down with the ship in quarterback Kyle Wright. Wright, a blue chip prospect, never materialized at Miami. In a twist of fate, Coker’s quarterback in Wright was passed to the new head coach Randy Shannon in 2007 after throwing 38 touchdowns and 31 interceptions in his career. In Coker’s final two seasons the offense was ranked 48th and 76th per the S&P+.

Average Offensive S&P+ rating: 62* (S&P+ didn’t start until 2005)


Miami v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Randy Shannon

The Miami offense was then handed over to Patrick Nix who gave way to Mark Whipple. Nix’s offenses finished 106th and 62nd with quarterbacks like Wright and Kirby Freeman. Freeman was abjectly horrible against NC State in 2007 as he finished the loss throwing one touchdown and three interceptions and was one-for-fourteen passing. Under Mark Whipple the offense improved to 24th overall and 35th overall from 2008-2009 with Jacory Harris at quarterback.

Harris came to Miami from nearby Miami-Northwestern High School where he led the Bulls to back-to-back state championship victories, a 30-0 record, and was Florida’s Mr. Football in 2007. Harris, and his Northwestern teammates, were supposed to be Shannon’s savior. Sort of like the Lakeland High School football class that the Gators signed under Urban Meyer in 2006. That Lakeland class at Florida produced a slew of NFL players in the Pouncey twins and Ahmad Black as well as the 2008 BCS National Championship. Harris’ best season was a 9-4 mark in 2009, not quite the National Title.

Harris had a rollercoaster career, first sharing time with Tampa Plant alumnus Robert Marve before being named the starter. Harris’ best seasons statistically speaking were 2009 under Shannon and Mark Whipple and 2011 under Al Golden. Somehow a ‘sure thing’ four-star quarterback who called his own shotgun spread offense in high school couldn’t translate to the college level.

Average Offensive S&P+ rating: 57


Virginia Tech v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Al Golden

Like Shannon, Golden inherited his starting quarterback from the past regime and Harris threw for over 2400 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior. Golden then turned to Stephen Morris a three-star prospect. Morris became Golden’s starter in 2012 and held the position down in 2013 as well. He averaged 7.9 and 8.8 yards per passing attempt while throwing 49 touchdowns and 30 interceptions as a Hurricane. Golden’s best season was a 9-4 mark with Morris in his senior season. Golden’s best offensive season came with Morris at quarterback as the ‘Canes finished 2013 ranked 19th per the S&P+.

In 2014, freshman Brad Kaaya was thrust into the starting quarterback position when Memphis transfer Ryan Williams injured his knee. Kaaya threw 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. The young quarterback was a four-star prospect out of California that signed with Miami over UCLA.

The 2015 season was a bad one for both Al Golden and Brad Kaaya. Golden was fired before the end of the season and Kaaya was injured with a concussion. Malik Rosier came in to start the Duke game in 2015, which resulted in a miracle win for interim head coach Larry Scott. The ‘Canes finished 8-5 in 2015.

Average Offensive S&P+ rating: 32


Miami v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Mark Richt

In 2016 Mark Richt was hired as the Miami Hurricanes head football coach after being fired by the University of Georgia. Richt had compiled an average S&P+ offensive rating of 28 in the country from 2011-2015. But the 2015 season saw UGA with the nation’s 81st ranked offense. In 2016, Kirby Smart led the Bulldogs offense to a measly 93rd spot in the nation. The Hurricanes had a smart junior quarterback and a solid crop of offensive players that were brought in by Al Golden in guys like Mark Walton, Stacy Coley, David Njoku, and Christopher Herndon IV.

The 2016 ‘Canes offense finished 34th in the country as Miami wound up 9-4 at season’s end. That 34th ranking is Richt’s highest at Miami and it was done with Al Golden’s quarterback in Brad Kaaya. Kaaya left early for the NFL and Richt was stuck at the drawing board in 2017 between Malik Rosier and true freshman N’Kosi Perry. Richt went with Rosier and Miami started the season 10-0 and ranked 2nd in the nation before dropping their final three games. The Hurricanes offense was ranked 36th per the S&P+ as Rosier struggled to pick up 3rd downs or move the football for long stretches of games.

In 2018, Many felt Mark Richt had three at least capable quarterbacks, a trio of running backs to drool over, and receiving weapons that could finish in the top two of the ACC. Yet sitting at 5-2 heading into week 9 the offense is ranked 55th and Richt’s average offense in orange and green is 42nd. That’s 10 spaces behind predecessor Al Golden who was ran out of Miami mid-season. Sure Miami won ten games in 2017, more than Golden ever won, but the offense was supposed to improve along with the defense. Instead Manny Diaz’s defense is like driving a Rolls Royce while Richt’s offense is a Dodge Charger- you remember them being a lot better of a car than they really are in 2018.

Heading into week 9’s matchup with Boston College Richt is starting Rosier, but said that not only will N’Kosi Perry play, but possibly blue chip quarterback Jarren Williams as well. If Mark Richt plays three quarterbacks in an ACC game that’s for the coastal division SOTU will implode if the Hurricanes are sitting at 5-3. Has Richt’s offense been figured out by college football? In this day and age of teams worrying about RPO’s, power read, and hurry up no huddle fast tempo offenses the ACC defenses can just line up and play football against Miami’s antiquated vanilla system.

Average Offensive S&P+ rating: 42


Washington State v Washington Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Mike Leach

You might be asking why the hell I’m bringing up Mike Leach and it’s because of Donald Trump. Yes, I’m joking. It’s because Mike Leach just pulled off another surprise win this time over Mario Cristobal’s Oregon Ducks. Man, circle of life. Mike Leach wanted the Miami job after Golden’s firing in 2011. Leach finished 84-43 at Texas Tech before being railroaded by Craig James and cut out of his bonus pay. Leach took the mediocre Red Raiders to their highest high in 2008 finishing 11-2.

Eventually Leach bounced back to land the dismal Washington State Cougars job in 2012. The Cougs offense was ranked 77th in 2011 before Leach’s arrival. His first season in Pullman was rough, the eccentric Air Raid coach’s offense was 116th in FBS football. Then he started cooking with butane and his 2013 offense was 54th. By year three the Leach offense was 36th, and Leach’s average S&P+ offense since Richt arrived in Coral Gables has been 31st. That puts him ahead of both Richt and Golden.

Leach’s issue in the past has been defense as it was difficult to recruit speed to Pullman. The state of Washington and nearby Idaho and Oregon don’t exactly produce Division I talent. Thus Leach is forced to get the leftover California, Utah and Arizona players that aren’t already taken by the likes of USC, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and UCLA.

What would the Leach Air Raid look like in Coral Gables?

First of all Rosier isn’t a Leach quarterback at all. Perry has the tangibles to make Leach drool and could be taught the system. It’s a system based on finding space and hitting rhythm receivers (routes likes fades in his “6”), read receivers (Leach’s favorite plays like mesh, shallow cross, and stick, or rush dump offs like a swing route.

Miami fans love to be “balanced” and “pro style” as if Miami is a farm system for the Dolphins. What fans should be interested in is finding someone that can overachieve as Miami can’t win the recruiting bidding wars with schools like UGA, Alabama or Clemson- read that how you must. Leach doesn’t need an elite offensive line as the Air Raid is built upon vertical pass setting, and space in pass pro as well. He only uses 5 to protect because if the defense brings a 6th threat the quarterback feels the rush and checks down to the running back or a bubble route.

People say there would be no running game but is there really one now? Does Miami intimidate anyone on the ground with the current system? Not at all. Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer are being completely wasted by the current staff as they can’t seem to wrap their minds around run-pass options or audibling out of bad situations.

Leach would have to learn how to recruit the tri-county area of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach and navigating those street agents takes time. But the guy knows how to find assistant coaches who can get the job done. He hired both Alex Grinch (now at Ohio State) and Tracy Claeys to run his defense; he’s also hired future head coaches and big names in Mike Mangino, Sonny Dykes, Tony Franklin, Dave Aranda, Art Briles, Dino Babers, Seth Littrell, Lincoln Riley, Jake Spavital, Dana Holgorsen Neal Brown, Graham Harrell, Sonny Cumbie, and Josh Heupel.

Think about how much scoring, innovation, and fun coaches like Littrell, Holgorsen, Riley, Briles, and Heupel have created around college football. One metric I love is points per play. Per teamrankings.com- Oklahoma is ranked 2nd in the nation, UCF is 6th, West Virginia is 17th, Troy is 22nd, Syracuse is 26th, and North Texas is 33rd in points per play. Up in Pullman, Washington State is 15th, as the captain of the pirates is doing pretty well for himself in 2018. Miami is 37th in the nation in points per play.

Maybe the answer isn’t Leach and it’s one of his former assistants like Littrell who is now at North Texas or Neal Brown from Troy. Littrell has dug in at North Texas and finished 9-5 and is currently sitting at 6-2. His offense is innovating and exciting as it was at UNC the last time the Tar Heels offense looked great. Brown’s Troy has knocked off Appalachian State, LSU and Nebraska the past three seasons.


Miami v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Summary

Miami’s offensive woes aren’t just a Mark Richt thing. They started with Brock Berlin at quarterback in 2003 and I’m in no way blaming Berlin. I’m blaming the lack of creativity of Rob Chudzinkski, the lack of recruiting from Larry Coker and the Board of Trustees for hiring complete dudes in Coker, Randy Shannon, and Al Golden.

I’m also blaming the bad high school coaching in Miami-Dade that leads to so many south Florida players looking lost on the field compared to their Georgia counterparts. Any time you watch a high school game featuring south Florida teams you’re due horrible technique and a ton of penalties as it’s quite obvious coaches are hoping to out-talent the teams from Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee rather than out-coach them.

Mark Richt has improved the facilities at Miami, made the program a national conversation, and improved recruiting through year three. Now Richt has to prove he can develop and deploy or he won’t be able to acquire talent in 2019 or 2020 and Miami will be back at square one. Square one looks like another new head football coach taking over the past regime’s quarterback while the recruits keep getting funneled up to Florida, FSU, Georgia, and Clemson.