The Hurricanes are in year three of the Mark Richt era and fans are still hedging their bets that the offense can be explosive in 2018. There’s reason for the skepticism; whether it’s the feeling that Mark Richt’s offense is too vanilla, or Malik Rosier’s ceiling will hurt the chance at variety or execution for the ‘Canes.
The Hurricanes offense finished 43rd in the FBS in points per play, and 36th in offensive S&P+. Regarding points per play, Miami even ranked behind teams with offenses that are considered ‘plodding’ like the multiple tight end and fullback sets of Stanford and Wisconsin, the “Neaderball” offense (link to Ian Boyd’s piece) of Kansas State, and Navy’s flexbone triple option offense.
The Hurricanes’s apparent weaknesses are Rosier’s ceiling with regards to accuracy and his ability to read a defense, and once again the offensive line. There are ways to get around both of Rosier’s deficiencies and the shuffling of the ‘Canes offensive line. Coaches get around a weak offensive line using ‘window dressing’ like motion and counters and by employing RPO’s in their offensive system, and they get around an uneasy quarterback by giving him confidence building throws early in the game and trying to stay head on first down.
Weapons allow variety
Malik Rosier is still a weapon as an athlete. He’s not Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield but few are. Rosier, from what we know, is the Miami quarterback heading into the 2018 season against the LSU Tigers in Arlington, TX. Rosier himself can be a weapon as he was Miami’s second leading rusher and totaled 31 touchdowns in 2017. He also has weapons all around him as Mark Richt’s staff has recruited four-star athletes at every position.
Having weapons at multiple position allows for multiple formations and personnel groups which gives quality control assistants and graduate assistants a lot more to game plan for than the same 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) group offense with a limited amount of formations and shifts or motions that Miami put on the field for much of 2016 and 2017.
The ‘Canes need to find a way to maximize the talent in the backfield. Travis Homer, Deejay Dallas, and Lorenzo Lingard create a deep backfield for Thomas Brown. In his first real running experience Homer averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 12.2 yards per catch, while Dallas averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 23 yards per catch. The offense has to find ways to get both Homer and Dallas on the field at the same time. Richt did use the Wildcat type formations where Dallas was the quarterback, but it needs to be in base 2-back sets as well. Dallas can do it all and that needs to be a big part of Miami’s weekly game plan.
With Ahmmon Richards back and healthy the ‘Canes have a loaded corps of receivers to run out on the field every play. They’re well coached by Ron Dugans and each of them has an ability to break away with a long touchdown. Richards and Jeff Thomas averaged 18.3 and 22 yards per catch, respectively. Richards needs to be used as a deep threat, while Lawrence Cager is a solid possession receiver when healthy that could bump Thomas into the slot.
Darrell Langham was a hero in 2017 and can be another big receiver for Rosier in the red zone. Langham, five-foot-nine Mike Harley, and the six-foot-three freshman Brian Hightower give Rosier additional weapons in the passing game.
Thomas can’t just be a deep threat, he has to be used on screens and in the running game. Later, we’ll take a look at what Auburn does with their slot receiver who serves as a threat in both the passing and run game on every play.
Tight End, Fullback, and H-Back
Mike Irvin II’s playing time at Miami is about to slump to nil with incoming studs like Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory. Jordan should be able to pick up with Christopher Herndon IV left off but has an every higher ceiling than Herndon. Mallory could redshirt with Irvin and Polendey both being on campus but he’s still more athletic than either of those options. Fullback Realus George is a throwback to the 90’s as a blocking fullback with size and power.
SB Nation’s Richard Johnson did phenomenal work with his piece on Jarrett Stidham in Auburn’s offense. One play that Richard points out in the piece is a Wildcat buck sweep (below). I feel that Miami could keep Rosier at quarterback on this play, but put Dallas wide and coming back on the fake reverse. Miami can pull both guards, as they do on their buck sweep, and have a threat to run with Rosier, fake the buck and pitch to Dallas who can throw, too.
Miami can take advantage of having a mobile quarterback in Rosier, a multi-talented athlete in Dallas, a grinder in Homer, and elite speed at receiver with Richards and Thomas while also using guys like George and Jordan as additional blockers and threats. If Miami lines up unbalanced, that creates a chance for Jordan, the young freshman tight end, to come free as the eyes drift to the pulling guards and jet motion.
When Miami lined up in the Wildcat during the season it was without much ingenuity. I have Dallas’ highlight tape (above) from the 2017 season cued up to a few Wildcat runs- there isn’t much to them and Clemson eventually shut the Wildcat down. What Gus Malzahn understands with his wing-t background is that every play needs a counter and a play-action.
Play 1: the zone read play
Simple and effective, Rosier reads the back side defensive end (in the blue triangle). If the end plays the sweep, Rosier can pull and should have a lot of running room with the linebackers all running fast with the pulling guards. If the end stays home, Rosier gives to the Z (hopefully Thomas).
Play 2: The Z pitches to the TB for a reverse pass
A secondary play from the same look would be a reverse pass. The Z gets the sweep and pitches back to the TB which is Deejay Dallas. Dallas reads his Y (Brevin Jordan) and if Jordan is covered will keep the ball and run. That’s the benefit of having an athlete that can run, catch and throw like Dallas- he can do it all.
Allegedly, Matt Canada will use a one word tag to run his window dressing motions, shifts, and offensive tackle arounds in order to keep things simple and effective. We saw on the Gruden QB Camp with Brad Kaaya that Mark Richt will go that route in his hurry-up no-huddle as well (LeBron and Jordan, right?). The same can be done in these Dallas-based packages where if guys hear “Jet special” they know it’s a particular play and the plays off of it. With only twenty hours to work with and freshman needing to play major roles on offense- Miami has to K.I.S.S. their communication system.
Back in 2000, Miami got as creative as an I-Formation 21 personnel offense was in that era. Linebacker DJ Williams was converted to fullback and used in the short yardage run game and in the passing game to maximize talent. Santana Moss averaged 33.5 yards per carry and 16.6 yards per catch while scoring ten total touchdowns (2 rushing, 5 receiving, 4 punt returns) in one season.
Even more variety came in using Najeh Davenport as a tailback and fullback while JUCO transfer Jeremy Shockey peaked at the right moment against the Seminoles with the game on the line. Making use of freshman, transfers, and athletes should be a staple of Hurricanes football. While the offensive line is still a question mark the ‘Canes can overcome that with using George as an extra blocker and the counter and RPO game to slow defenses down.