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Miami Hurricanes: Still searching for Explosive plays

I wrote about this trend following week 2 of the season and many people said it was too early. Are you ready to have this conversation now?

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Back in September, I wrote the first installment of this piece, Where have all the explosive plays gone? In which I looked at the decent efficiency but INCEDIBLE lack of explosiveness in Miami’s offense. You can read that by clicking the link below:

While it was easy to see the state of affair with the numbers I included in that piece, the main point of feedback was consistent: it’s too soon to worry about such things. With the new regime having only had 2 outings — against overmatched Bethune Cookman and Southern Miss — there wasn’t enough data to really support things being dire, and plenty of time going forward to get things going in the right direction.

So, instead of writing monthly updates or whatever, I decided to wait until the season was over to revisit this point of conversation. And with that time being here, let’s look at the numbers and see how bad things were — because trust me, dear reader, they were baaaaaaaaad.

Efficiency Struggled, too!

With a run-first approach, things can be a bit boring, if you’re not breaking long runs on the regular. Such is the case with the current iteration of the Miami Hurricanes offense. At least what we’ve seen so far.

Through two games, Miami ran the ball 89 times. To contrast, they’ve threw it just 55 times. With a 1.6-to-1 run to pass ratio, it was clear that Miami was embodying the kind of run-pass splits that Cristobal prefers as a coach. Oregon, Cristobal’s previous team, was 1.3-to-1 run/pass in 2021, 1.24-to-1 in the shortened COVID season of 2020, and 1.14-to-1 in 2019. So, the reliance on the run as evidenced by that run/pass ratio has increased each of the past 4 years, including this one.

But, with a loss to Texas A&M, and a BLOWOUT loss to Middle Tennessee State — a game in which throwing the ball became an absolute necessity — and several injuries to handle, the run/pass ratio skewed much more toward the pass for the rest of the year. In the end, things pretty much evened out. Miami ran 825 offensive plays in 2022; 413 were passes, and 412 were runs. A 1-to-1 run-to-pass ratio isn’t what Cristobal would prefer to have, as evidenced by his previous offenses. OC Josh Gattis had a 575-to-395 (1.46-to-1) run/pass ratio at Michigan in 2021, and 495-to-410 (1.21-to-1) in 2019.

So we know the ratio was 1 play off of a 50-50 run/pass split on the year (much more pass heavy that Cristobal wants), but what about the efficiency? Early on (after 2 games when I wrote the first version of this piece) Miami’s efficiency was great. 3rd in rushing efficiency and 13th in passing efficiency. Like most offensive metrics through the course of the season, those numbers fell.

Before the graphic, the X-axis is rushing success rate (so further to the right = better), and the Y- axis is passing down success rate (so higher up = better).

Miami’s efficiency was fine, but lower than they’d like optimally
graph from

If you’re looking, Miami’s in the middle of the pack, slightly above average. They’re in the neighborhood of Clemson and Syracuse and others (App State, Purdue, USF). The Canes ended the year ranked 49th in Rushing Success Rate and 61st in Passing Success Rate. A far cry from were things stood after 2 games, and fully understandable for anyone who watched Miami this season.

Let’s take the numbers a bit further. On the year, Miami ended 60th in the country in success rate at 43.2% (that’s down nearly 20% from the first 2 games), 44th in marginal efficiency at -1.0% (down from 1st thru 2 games), and the aforementioned rushing and passing efficiency rates, which come in at 49th and 64th nationally. Those are all in the top half of teams in the country, but well, WELL below where things started. That kind of downward movement isn’t great, but neither was Miami, so it fits.

So where does Miami go from here? They rework the offense a bit, completely rework the offensive line, and hope the mistakes and miscues that held them back for the final 10 games of the season disappear, or at a minimum are lessened, and things trend back towards the success of the early part of 2022.

Clown props have more explosion than Miami’s offense

After 2 games, I said Miami’s offensive explosiveness was horrible. Terrible. Putrid even.

I didn’t think things could get worse in this area than they were. Dear reader, I’m here to tell you I was wrong; things got MUCH worse.

In 2022, Miami was one of the least explosive offensive teams in the country. Out of 131 teams, Mario Cristobal’s Canes were 127th in Isolated Points Per Play, 128th in marginal explosiveness, 117th in rushing marginal explosiveness, 126th in passing marginal explosiveness, 77th in air yards per pass (this was the only metric that IMPROVED from the early-season article), 123rd in marginal explosiveness on standard downs, and 119th in explosiveness on passing downs. So, in other words, in nearly every single explosiveness metric, Miami is in the bottom quartile of the country...or worse. And, every metric save one got demonstrably worse through the 2022 season.

Even the overall explosive play rate, something that was pretty solid early in the year, fell off a cliff. Miami ended up 87th in this metric, with roughly 1 in 9 of offensive plays being classified as explosive. This is down from 1 in 7 plays earlier in the year. That doesn’t SEEM like that big of a difference, but over the course of a season with nearly 1000 offensive plays, that’s actually a pretty massive difference when every play and every yard mattered so much to Miami’s offense. With the talent on Miami’s roster, particularly at the skill positions, this is decidedly pedestrian, and a downward trajectory in this area is very much NOT what Miami wanted or needed to see.

Last year, Miami was 21st in Isolated Points Per Play and 27th in marginal explosiveness. That’s top 20% of FBS teams. Those numbers plummeted to 127th and 128th, respectively. I mean.....

How can Miami rediscover offensive explosiveness?

Early in the season, I wrote about the kinds of plays, and the ratio of those plays, that could be used to increase explosiveness. Now, I know Tyler Van Dyke got hurt and that had a negative impact on explosiveness through the season, but this is about more than that.

To find the lacking explosiveness, Miami needs some wholesale changes in terms of personnel and paradigm on offense. Doing the same thing, the same way, with the same players, won’t yield the improvement needed.

When Nick Saban’s Alabama was seeing stagnation on offense, he went outside his coaching group to bring in outside ideas to open things up, turn Bama into a lethal passing offense, and raise the bar for the program. Even as recently as last week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney did the same, firing his internally developed and promoted OC Brandon Streeter and hiring TCU OC Garrett Riley — younger brother of USC HC and noted offensive guru Lincoln Riley — to help improve what has become a rather pedestrian Clemson offensive attack. And those moves say nothing of the personnel changes both teams did (or are likely to) enact for improved performance as well.

For Miami, it appears that the personnel changes and the hope for internal performance development (i.e. players just playing better) are going to be the main foundation to try and achieve improved offensive explosion and success overall. The offensive line looks to be getting retooled, with a bevvy of recruits and transfer portal additions joining the group. At the skill positions, however, it’s mostly status quo. QB returns. Multiple RBs return. Nearly all the receivers return. But all 3 groups saw additions from the 2023 recruiting class, so maybe they can have a positive impact on the play on the field. Maybe.

While the personnel changes that have been seen (and look to be continuing) and internal development that’s hoped for are great, there will need to be schematic updates as well. QB coach Frank Ponce has already left/been nudged elsewhere, and the other big domino here is what, if anything, happens with OC/WR coach Josh Gattis. His resume speaks for itself, but his performance and Miami’s offensive performance in 2022 was deplorable. Wil Gattis return to Miami? And if he does, will the Canes’ offense remain as punchless as it was in 2022? Or will....something?....change and improvements be seen?

There’s also the non-zero chance that Gattis is replaced and Miami goes in a different direction at offensive coordinator. That might not be the panacea for Miami’s offensive woes, since the new OC would likely continue to run a version of the run-first offense that Mario Cristobal desires to employ, but maybe a fresh perspective would be good.

Or, maybe Gattis stays, and Miami runs the same stuff they ran in 2022, and things magically get better. Or not? I honestly don’t know.

Come hell or high water, Miami HAS TO find ways to rediscover their offensive explosiveness. They were woefully, historically unable to do so in 2022 and the season wasn’t be as successful as it could have been. But, like y’all wanted, I waited until after the season to look at the numbers, and they were worse than nearly every team in the country.

So, the job now will be to find improvement with the current group of players and coaches. And, if that doesn’t happen, heads should roll.

No pressure.

Go Canes