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Trying To Make Sense of Miami’s Offensive Struggles

The Canes are back to struggling on offense, seems like we’re going in circles.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

If there was one reason to be excited about the Miami Hurricanes prior to the 2021 season, it was the offense. Rhett Lashlee entering his second year as offensive coordinator, up-tempo, spread offense attack. D’Eriq King was back, Mike Harley, Will Mallory, Zion Nelson, Cam’ron Harris, all returning. Charleston Rambo coming over from Oklahoma to give the receiver room depth and experience.

Miami’s offense averaged 34 points per game in 2020, a season where the Canes had just one week of spring practice, and a year ruled by Covid-19 and the complications that it brought. Now, a year where you had all off-season to prepare, plenty of talent back, sky is the limit, right? Right...?

So far through three games, it’s been the complete opposite. Miami is averaging 18.3 points per game, an experienced offensive line has somehow taken a step back, veteran receivers are dropping passes, running game has had no impact, and King hasn’t nearly been as sharp.

How does this happen?

Well for one, and I’ve been a Lashlee supporter since day one, I wanted him here, but he has been severely underwhelming as a play-caller in 2021, and the predictability of the offense conjures up memories of Dan Enos and Mark Richt’s system at Miami.

There’s not the same excitement, so far, from the offense that we saw in 2020. Last year, Miami’s offense averaged 6.1 yards per play, and through three weeks in 2021, they’re averaging just 4.8 in the same category, which is 90th in the country.

Perfect example was against App State in week-two. Lashlee continued to try and get his offense to establish the running game, and it just wasn’t going to happen. 41 rushing attempts, and while the 197 rushing yards may look good, 4.7 yards per carry is frustrating. Same thing against Alabama, 31 rushing attempts, 88 yards, 2.8 yards per carry.

I’m all for Miami throwing the football 40-45 times per game, even more if need be. We’ve seen that the Hurricanes are moving the ball much more efficiently passing, why continue to run at this rate?

Harris, who came back for one more year, and was expected to establish himself as one of the best running backs in the ACC, has gone in the opposite direction. Up to this point, his 172 rushing yards ranks 13th in the ACC, and his 4.2 yards per carry is 25h.

Miami as a whole is last in the ACC in rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns and yards per carry. Don Chaney Jr. out with a season-ending injury certainly contributes to this, as he was looking like he could be a real weapon this year.

Miami’s receivers, which has been a struggling unit for some time, they’ve been frustrating. Let me say this, Charleston Rambo has lived up to expectations. The Oklahoma transfer leads Miami with 24 receptions, 241 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Against Michigan State on Saturday, he tied a UM single-game record with 12 catches, to go along with his 156 receiving yards and 2 scores.

But here’s my thing, and another reason why I’m frustrated with Lashlee and the offense. Rambo had 10 catches in the first half alone, the Spartans defense had no answer for him. In the second half however, Rambo was targeted just 3 times, for 2 receptions. If he’s playing at that level, why is he not the main focus on offense? Why go away from that?

Keyshawn Smith, in his first season as a full-time starter, has proven he’s worthy of that role, tied for second on the team with 12 catches. Feed him more. He has the explosiveness that gives opposing defense’s fits.

Mike Harley, who has led Miami the last two years in receiving, and was viewed as one of college football’s top returning wide receivers coming into 2021, has been disappointing, 12 catches for 101 yards, and no touchdowns so far. He started off slow in 2020, and I was confident he wouldn’t do it again in 2021, but something isn’t right. Multiple dropped passes have been the headline for him through 3 games. He did play better this last Saturday, so hopefully he’s starting to turn it around.

Tight end Will Mallory, who I hyped up perhaps more than any other player on this team during the off-season, has also been a non-factor. His drop in the endzone against Michigan State changed that game, and his slow start to the season has been one of the more infuriating aspects of the offense.

The offensive line, with Zion Nelson, Corey Gaynor, DJ Scaife, and others, nothing has changed, inconsistency is still what we’re seeing. Adjusted rotations haven’t resulted in progress, penalties continue to occur, and blown chances have crippled Miami’s offense.

Nelson, a top 2022 NFL Draft prospect before the season started, gave up a crucial sack against the Spartans in the fourth quarter, in which King fumbled, Michigan State recovered, and that was basically the end.

Finally you have King, who somehow started the season, after rehabbing a devastating injury he suffered in last years bowl game. And unfortunately, it’s obvious the effects from the injury has had an impact, and after being bullied on Saturday against the Spartans, who knows what the rest of 2021 has in store for him.

He’s completed 66% of his passes which isn’t bad, but his QB rating of 120.8 is 10th in the ACC, and he’s tied for most interceptions thrown (4) and number of times he’s been sacked (9). And while this offensive line hasn’t been great, there have been times this year where King held on to the ball for too long.

I have to keep reminding myself, we’ve only played 3 games. There’s still at least 9 games remaining in 2021, this offense can still turn it around and be dynamic. Harley and Mallory could shake off a rusty start and be the playmakers they’ve been in the past. Jaylan Knighton returning in week-five will hopefully help the running-game and overall offense with his versatility.

There’s still hope, but Lashlee is definitely feeling the pressure, and rightfully so.