To put it nicely, Miami was horrendous on third-downs in 2017, on both offense and defense. However, the Canes have turned the corner on both sides of the ball, and third-down has now become the money maker for Mark Richt’s 2018 team.
Starting on offense, the Hurricanes have made leaps and bounds of improvement on third-down conversions. Last season, the offense ranked 127th in the country for third-down conversions, which ya know, is horrible.
In their last three games of 2017, all losses, Miami converted an abysmal 21.8% of their third-down conversions, and against LSU, the Canes were 37%, also a loss.
Flipping a new page though in 2018, the improvement is staggering. Through the first four games, Miami is now converting on 48.2% on third-downs, and then also 52.7% since the loss to LSU.
So whats improved? Well, the playmaking ability of quarterback N’Kosi Perry has definitely helped. On Saturday against FIU, three times Perry helped Miami on third-down using his legs and picking up the first down. Perry and the offense was 54% on third-downs with him under center.
On defense, it doesn't seem like Manny Diaz’s unit needs much improvement, but alas, they also struggled on third-downs in 2017.
Their opponents converted just 39% of third-downs, but in the games they lost, Miami’s opponents averaged 47%.
So far in 2018, LSU loss included, Miami’s defense has been nothing short of suffocating on third-down. In four games, the Hurricanes opponents are averaging 17% on third-down, and the Canes rank first in the country in that category.
At the half @CanesFootball 24 @FIUFootball 0— #TeamRoundGuy (@SSSportsTalk) September 22, 2018
Stats - #Canes 324 total yards #Panthers 15 total yds
20:36 TOP 9:24 TOP
4-8 3rd Down 0-6 3rd down#FIUvsUM #BattleForMiami #ItsAllAboutTheU pic.twitter.com/g00yVtjvor
Gerald Willis really likes using that club-swim/arm over. Stops Brossette short of the first. pic.twitter.com/sqT3AlQG5Q— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 4, 2018
Miami’s defense will need to stay strong on third-down as conference play opens on Thursday. During their 38-35 win on Saturday over Pitt, North Carolina converted just under 50% of their conversions. That being said, the Tar Heels converted on an average of just 27% on third-downs in their first two games, which were also losses.
What’s changed for the Hurricanes defense compared to last years? Against FIU, the Panthers were 1-for-11 on third-downs through the first three quarters, which was when the majority of the first-team defenders played.
What helped the Canes D then was the combination of both pass coverage and the rush from their defensive-line. Joe Jackson recorded a sack one a third-down, and Sheldrick Redwine got an interception as well on another third-down.