Miami Hurricanes

Honeymoon over for Richt at Miami after second consecutive loss?

Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley (3) talks to head coach Mark Richt, during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

It’s just six games into his tenure, but is the honeymoon over for Mark Richt? The Miami Hurricanes dropped a 20-13 decision to North Carolina on their home turf on Saturday afternoon, in a defeat that resembled many others over the last decade. Were expectations too high this year for the veteran head coach who had the Georgia program among the SEC’s best for more than a decade?

Were expectations that Richt would waltz into Coral Gables and immediately lift The U from its dormant state? They aren’t completely unrealistic. However, the return of the glory days at Miami are going to take some time. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” might be a cliched expression, but it exists because it applies to a lot of situations, this being one of them.

The 2016 Hurricanes look like a team with potential. Unfortunately, for those Canes fans who’ve been banging their collective heads against the wall since 2001, when Miami last won it all, the return of The U won’t happen overnight.

While celebrating that national championship team in a halftime ceremony on Saturday, plans for the next one are currently on hold.

Look at the defense. Three starting linebackers are all freshmen. When was the last time a Power Five team employed such an inexperienced trio? Probably never.

The eternal optimist – do any Canes fans fall into this category? – will figure in the fact that North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora crafted an excellent game plan on offense, using Miami’s over-pursuit to The U’s disadvantage.

Misdirection and screen passes worked to near perfection time and time again, as Fedora employed an imaginative offense that kept the Canes off balance throughout. It’s the progressive offense-minded direction that has LSU’s ears perked, as the Tigers seek a new head coach for 2017.

Not to make excuses for Saturday’s performance, but this wasn’t a Canes team at full strength. Key defensive players Rayshawn Jenkins (senior defensive back) and Shaquille Quarterman, one of the three freshmen linebackers, were playing through injuries.

Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya played with a sore shoulder, and it showed. He injured it in the Florida State game. He missed a couple of days of practice this week, and was not accurate on Saturday.

Kaaya missed wide-open receivers and threw behind others. His passes were uncharacteristically not crisp, and the passing game suffered. Kaaya completed short dump-off passes and it became clear from the outset that he was not a threat to complete even medium-range throws with any consistency.

On top of that, a heavy rain fell early in the fourth quarter, making passing conditions even more tricky. All that did was put pressure on the run game, and when the Tar Heels shut that down, there was nowhere else to turn.

The Canes moved the ball late in the third quarter. Behind the leadership of Kaaya, who used his legs as well as his arm to move the team down the field, they finally reached the end zone to reduce a 17-point deficit and create a compelling contest heading into the fourth quarter. A goal-line stand to start the final period generated additional energy inside Hard Rock Stadium.

It didn’t translate into a victory, however, and now the Canes stare at a two-game losing streak headed into a short week. Miami travels to Blacksburg to meet Virginia Tech for a Thursday game.

It’s a game which won’t be the box-office event it could have been a few weeks ago.

Like Virginia Tech under first-year coach Justin Fuente, Miami hasn’t been able to immediate recapture lost glories.

The Canes might still be special, but Saturday affirmed the notion that the road to renewal will take longer than one season.

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