In Miami’s 6-7 season in 2019, the Hurricanes offensive line created virtually no time for the signal callers to develop their plays and complete routine reads. Instead, oftentimes, it looked like the quarterback carousel of Jarren Williams, N’Kosi Perry, and Tate Martell were running for their lives in the pocket. In particular, it showed in the box score as the line gave up a wretched 51 sacks in 2019.
Thus, over the offseason and as a result of the abysmal offensive line, the Hurricanes completely overhauled that front. Namely, the personnel was completely revamped as the program fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos and OL coach Butch Barry. To replace Barry, Miami hired offensive line coach, Garin Justice, a former offensive line coach for UNLV and FAU.
Additionally, the Canes were able to sign incoming freshmen, Jalen Rivers and Issiah Walker Jr., the 50th and 121st highest recruits, respectively according to ESPN 300 for 2020, as well as graduate transfer, Jarrid Williams. The Hurricanes also returned some talent across the line with Corey Gaynor, DJ Scaife Jr, Zion Nelson, John Campbell Jr, Ousman Traore, and Jakai Clark.
While these alterations all seemed like improvements in theory, the woeful ways have continued. The Canes have allowed 25 sacks, accounting for a loss of 152 yards (19 yards lost per game by way of sack). The 3.13 sacks per game ranks T-104th out of 126 teams in the NCAA. Even worse, the front offensive trench is ranked 121st out of 126 teams in tackles for loss allowed per game as they have allowed 69 TFL through 8 games (8.63 TFL/game accounting for 248 yards - another 31 yards lost per game). Also, despite some early season flashes in the running game, Miami’s running game has been nonexistent as of late.
While it is impossible to blame one scapegoat, the cause of attrition may be as a result of the interrupted offseason due to COVID-19, the switch in personnel and to the uptempo spread offense, and/or the absence of one of the most experienced and consistent players on the otherwise underwhelming offensive line group - Navaughn Donaldson. The latter of which, Donaldson, may very soon be making a much-needed return to the unit as it was announced he was available in an emergency role earlier this month against Virginia Tech and he may be slated to play for the remaining games.
“Navaughn was available in an emergency role [against Virginia Tech],” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “The guy hadn’t even really practiced full-go until towards the end of the week. It will be good to have him the rest of the year obviously with the way things are going. I think he’s excited and if he gets the opportunity, wants to play.”
D'Eriq King had a pretty good first quarter. He was 8 for 8 for 158 yards and a TD. He's been sacked twice and the Miami running game has logged only 26 yards on 13 carries. But the passing game is working.— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) October 25, 2020
For background, in late-June, Donaldson announced he would utilize his redshirt option for his senior season. This wasn’t a huge surprise as Donaldson suffered a lower leg injury against Duke in the 2019 regular season finale, which forced him to miss the Walk-on Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech. The injury lingered into the spring, as Donaldson then missed Miami’s only four spring practices. Apparently the injury was more serious than a standard ankle injury, as Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz told The Athletic that Donaldson would be the only player not ready for the start of fall camp as he was coming off major knee surgery in December.
Donaldson, who had played 35 games for Miami up until the 2019 injury, has definitely been missed. However, due to the NCAA’s redshirt rules, Navaughn can play in up to four games and still retain his redshirt eligibility for an additional season. Coincidentally, in all likelihood, Miami has four games remaining - three regular season games and a Bowl Game.
To this point, Donaldson has answered the call at every turn in his Miami career. Coming into his freshman season in 2017, he was considered a top-100 overall prospect who exhibited top notch run-blocking and unmatched overall physical traits. Even though Donaldson felt most comfortable at Right Tackle going into his freshman year, he ended up starting ten games at Right Guard in 2017. He was plagued with minor injuries his freshman year as he missed two games, but was talented enough to receive ESPN Freshman All-American Honors.
OL Navaughn Donaldson 'excited' to make season debut https://t.co/fkIKhS1Tw0— Christopher Stock (@InsideTheU) November 16, 2020
As his career progressed, he continued to show a willingness to fit in wherever Miami needed. In his sophomore year, he started his first six games at Right Tackle and then shifted back to Right Guard for the final seven contests. In addition, when fellow lineman, Corey Gaynor, was plagued by injuries going into the 2019 season, Donaldson was open to receiving reps at Center. However, by the time the season started, Donaldson shifted over to Left Guard, where he became a mainstay and started all 12 games prior to the injury in the Duke game.
Until his injury, Donaldson may have been the only bright spot for the Canes offensive line in 2019. Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Navaughn a 77.6 pass blocking grade and a 69.4 run blocking grade, both of which earned him the top marks for the U’s group.
Donaldson will bring leadership as well as he has remained loyal to Miami since he originally committed in the Summer of 2015, as part of the 2017 class. His gargantuan presence has been missed on the field in 2020 - listed on Miami’s website as 6’6”, 363 pounds.
Manny Diaz said #Canes "were on the brink" of not playing today's game because of where they were shorthanded with players held out. Says Navaughn Donaldson was ready to enter the game as the 6th guy at OL.— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) November 14, 2020
As Miami attempts to close out the season in style and finish 10-1, Donaldson could be expected to answer the most difficult call of his career - make his debut down the home stretch and be expected anchor an offensive line group that has struggled all season. If he can do so, this will assist with opening up the run game that has experienced an up-and-down season. In addition, in a game of inches and seconds, he could also play a pivotal role in giving QB, D’Eriq King, that extra half-second, which is often the difference between a completion vs. an incompletion or worse.