“The play-calling is horrendous”, “Is this really the guys that we wanted?” Those comments grew pretty loud before Miami ended the four game losing streak after starting the season off 4-0 once again placing them in the top 25 national rankings. Given the level of expectations at The U, qualifies as a mediocre result. It’s been a season of ebbs-and-flows for the University of Miami football program in 2016. While the team transitions from the leadership of Al Golden to that of Coach Mark Richt aka ‘CMR’, there’s been conflicting expectations from a fanbase that’s hungry for the main course instead of feeding on scraps that have fallen off the dining table.
Playing like hungry dogs is not a demeaning quality in the context of football. More so than in recent past we’re seeing defenders rally to the ball with urgency. Led by a trio of freshman linebackers the defence has thrived, yes the same defence that got blow’d out by Clemson 58-0 to usher change in ‘The State of U’ has stiffened, and actually has been executing the most recent preseason preaching of attacking the offence, getting to the QB, and creating havoc at the line of scrimmage.
On the other side of the ball the Canes have taken a step back statistically on offence. This was supposed to be the season that Brad Kaaya showed up and showed out, making himself a Heisman contender, as well as illustrating why the ACC is home to the best collegiate QBs and polishing off a resume for NFL evaluators to drool over. With the exception of catching the eyes of NFL scouts, Kaaya has been Jekyll and Hyde for much of the season. One moment tossing $$$ on a rope to standout freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (Yeah he’s pretty dope), the next gifting passes to a Cavalier defender in mind numbing, curse at your screen fashion.
Year one at the U will go down as this before the bowl game, 8-4 (5-3 in traditional ACC play). With a bowl game left on the schedule, Miami will either replicate or surpass the 2015 season record of 8-5. Posting a winning record, getting to a decent bowl game, and posting only 1 double digit loss (VT) in the season. We have to wonder, where are the complaints coming from and what are they about?
The biggest gripe with Canes O is not solely based on the performance and execution, it also has to do with the play-calling.
2016 has been the first season that Mark Richt has taken control of play-calling since his 2006 season at Georgia. Like most coaches will attest, some calls have been better than others. Getting back into the pace of the game, knowing when to go where and all the situational nuance that comes with coaching a college football game does not come easy, even if you’ve been around the game as long as CMR. Miami finishes the regular season at 7-4 on the season, with attention now focused on a bowl. In his first season at UGA in ’01 Richt ended the year 8-4 (5-3 in traditional ACC play). Next season them Dawgs posted a 13-1 season capping the season off with a Sugar Bowl win over the ‘Tomahawkers’. The Canes last losing season came in 2014 under the Al Nickel, Bronze or whatever his name was. CMR’s last and only losing season happened in 2010, disappointing to say the least, yet the team improved the year after to make it to the SEC title game.
When you hear criticism of Richt in his first year as coach in Coral Gables there is a feeling among many (at least on Twitter) that Richt should be doing better with the talent currently available.
Can that really be true?
Before the season even kicked off one of the major concerns for the team was a lack of depth. You’re not going to simply find an All-American, or even adequate replacement that fans of Miami would consider a “Canes level player” on the street. I mean there are those, but that’s because they were booted there because of potential violations. Throw in the inevitable injuries that occur every season and it simply becomes a win if the team can trot out 11 guys that know what they’re doing who will be able to make an impact instead of being just a walking soggy bandaid.
Are we making excuses? HELL YES. You want to know why? Because it’s year 1 of the Richt Era, The Richt experience, or whatever you’d like to call it. With new hires, perhaps aside from the money, renewed hope and people bending over backwards to kiss your butt in appreciation to fact that you accepted the position, there is definitely a grace period for you to get your new house in order. This is not the Browns, nor do we have a coach that is flirting with another program that he believes to a be a “dream destination”. Mark Richt is the coach of The U, and hopefully that statement will be echoed for as many seasons as he wants and the contract allows.
Let’s get a bigger perspective of the landscape to truly appreciate what we have.
When all is said on done, like it or not, Nick Saban will be in the discussion as one of the best coaches to roam the sideline and scream at Lane Kiffin. Even the good ones have their growing pains in year one at a new program. In his first season in Baton Rouge good ‘ol St.Nick went a reasonable 8-4 which includes a Peach Bowl win over Georgia Tech. The following season he went 10-3. Again, after a failed stint in a place very familiar to some in the NFL, he tucked tail to Tuscaloosa, leading the Tide to a 7-6 record in 2007 (after a sanction for improper benefits granted some members of the football team the NCAA stripped away wins in which the accused participated the adjusted record became 2-6). We know what Alabama has become under Saban’s tenure, one of if not the elite program in college football. They even erected a statue for the guy, former players/coaches don’t just get statues made of them that don’t have illustrious pro careers… isn’t that right Gainesville and Waco?!?
If Saban is not enough proof check out James Joseph Harbaugh, most call him Jim, and his record when he first got to Stanford was modest at best as he tried to rebuild a program whose glory days were behind them. Starting out 4-8, gradually improving each season. After a 8-5 season in his third year the Cardinal went 12-1 in 2010, 4 years removed from his first season, the program turned the corner back to relevancy in steps.
While hopping up the stairs is nice and quick, the goal is still to make it to the top of staircase, if not, what’s the point in even making the climb?
Yes, it was frustrating watching the offence at points this season. As much as Njoku makes incredible catches with incredible run-after-catch finesse he still produced some of the most UGH worthy drops on catches that looked like gimmes in-person and on a screen. Stacy Coley has been, well Stacy, flashing for a couple plays the disappearing the next. And the O-Line has been sporadic even when the season was going well.
However, to place the blame solely on one aspect when blame can be shared like appetizers between the play of the o-line, injuries, miscues, drops, etc is fair, but a bit too soon.
Canes fans have come a long way. From coordinators that can’t find jobs at other schools, to coaches that looked for safer ground at different levels of the game. This is what we’ve got. From what Cam has written about, more talent soon come. Look around the country. Colorado and Penn State are both in contention to play for title games in their respective conferences, while Texas and LSU will be vetting candidates to figure out what the future brings come the off-season. The U is getting there. It’s just a proc….. Forget that. It’s all about the U, GO CANES!!!!!!