Something that the Hurricanes did well in 2017 on their way to a 10-0 start was have strong first half performances. During Miami’s 10 wins that year, they outscored opponents 118-56 in the first two quarters.
Something that the Hurricanes didn’t do well in 2018, on their way to a dismal 7-6 campaign, was have strong first half performances. In Miami’s six losses, the Canes were outscored 95-52 in the first two quarters. Against LSU, Wisconsin and Virginia, UM was held to a combined 12 first half points.
Championship teams come out right out of the gate and hit the defense in the mouth, putting points on the board quickly. In 2018, Ohio State averaged 21.1 first half points, Clemson 23.0, Oklahoma 25.9 and Alabama 30.4. Miami ranked 73rd in the nation in first half points, averaging just 13.7.
Part of the reason why Miami struggled so much offensively in the first half last season was because they far too conservative, and didn’t take chances, especially on the first drive. In my opinion, your first offensive drive says a lot on how confident you are.
Take the 2017 Virginia Tech game for instance. On the Hurricanes first offensive drive of the game, they were taking shots and trying all sorts of things right from the start. The first play they ran in fact was a jet sweep to receiver Braxton Berrios. Their second play on offense was a reverse pass from Berrios to Malik Rosier for a substantial gain and they caught the Hokies completely off guard.
Even against Notre Dame that same year, the Hurricanes were aggressive early, throwing on three of their first five plays. While they didn’t score on their opening drive, Miami’s offense did manage to put up 20 first half points on the Irish.
Fast forward to when Miami played LSU last season. The first two offensive plays called by the Hurricanes was either an inside run or a zone read, and by the time they faced 3rd-and-12, all they managed to do was dump it off to their running back for four yards. Their final four drives of the first half resulted in 52 total yards, a pick-six for LSU, zero points for Miami and a 27-3 deficit that was too much to overcome.
In 2018, only against Toledo and Georgia Tech did the Hurricanes score on their opening drive. Especially against the Yellow Jackets, N’Kosi Perry came out throwing on the game’s first play, you could tell they were confident, and the drive ended in a touchdown.
Now I'm obviously not saying that you need to run Jeff Thomas in the jet sweep for the first play of every game, but the Hurricanes can’t be afraid to come out firing at all angles. And also, don’t be afraid to throw on first down. I know old-time football geezers will you that you have to establish the running game, but sometimes by the time you’ve “established” a running game you’re behind 27-3 to LSU in the first half.
One of my favorite examples of this is Dan Enos and the 2018 Alabama offense. First play for Bama’s offense against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and they call a play-action slant over the middle to Devonta Smith that goes for a huge gain. That’s what I'm saying, it doesn't have to be a Randell Cunningham to Randy Moss bomb every pass play. Jerry Rice once said that he’d rather run a slant than a go route, because then it allows your football players and athletes to run free. Rice and John Taylor perfected that with the 49ers in the 1980’s.
In that first half against Oklahoma, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts were a combined 7-for-8 passing on first downs. Of those seven completions, six of them were for less than 15 yards that came courtesy of little dump offs to their running backs.
During Miami’s spring game in Orlando not too long ago, Tate Martell and K.J. Osborn did their best impression of the Crimson Tide.
By throwing these short passes, not only are you setting yourself up with a short situation on second-down, it also will open the run game as the defense moves back and is expecting the pass. And when you feel like you’ve brought the defensive backs in a little bit, go long! Jeff Thomas is the fastest player Miami has had in years, utilize him, not just on trick plays and screens, but let him burn the cornerback. Against Toledo last year, Thomas was used in a plethora of ways, the bubble screen, the end around, and the deep ball.
So let’s hope that Enos can bring some of that firepower to the desperate Hurricanes offense.
It’s well known that Miami has a stellar defense, and if their offense can provide them with some points and breathing room by halftime, you’ll see a completely different team in 2019.