Miami Hurricanes

Miami struggles to stay relevant in ACC Coastal race

15 October 2016: University of Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt watches as his team during the game between the Miami Hurricanes and the North Carolina Tar Heels at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL (Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire)
Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire

As quickly as the Miami Hurricanes rose to the top 10 in the national rankings, they have fallen out — all the way out. Back-to-back losses to Florida State and North Carolina have sent the Canes tumbling from national attention, and now the 4-2 team is fighting to even remain relevant in the ACC Coastal Division chase.

Mark Richt’s first season as head coach at Miami is turning into a roller coaster ride. Four victories out of the starting gate gave a false sense of security that that he could simply wave a magic wand and make things all better at The U.

There are no magic wands, not in college football. Remember Nick Saban’s early days at Alabama? His Crimson Tide lost to the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Look at him now.

So while it shouldn’t be a time of panic at Coral Gables, it certainly is one of concern. Still not a deep program, the Canes are suffering from some injuries, notably to their quarterback.

Brad Kaaya hurt his throwing shoulder in the Florida State loss. He missed a few practices during the week of the North Carolina game and it was evident that he was not 100 percent for that one.

He completed under 50 percent of his passes (16-for-31) but did throw for 224 yards. He missed wide open receivers and threw behind others. He was not accurate but won’t have much time to heal this week; the Canes travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech for a big ACC Coastal Division game on Thursday night.

While the passing game suffered, it also put pressure on a deteriorating run game which — since rolling up 373 yards in the season opener against Florida A&M — has steadily produced less and less yardage with every following game. The run game reached rock bottom with only 62 yards against Florida State. Though it was better against North Carolina, totaling 139 rushing yards, there was no place to go but up.

Richt said he believes, despite the injury to Kaaya and its domino effect, that simple execution is the culprit.

“Catching the ball when it’s in your hands, hitting a target when it’s open, protecting your quarterback when you need to, finding the right running lanes when the blocking is there,” Richt said in his postgame press conference after the loss to North Carolina. “The better you block, obviously run and pass, the better things go, the smoother things go. We have to get better up front too.”

A lack of focus has the Canes’ offense off kilter. A new coaching staff, a fresh start, and high expectations can create an intense atmosphere that’s difficult to steadily handle over the course of a 12-game schedule.

“We have to get together, whether it’s getting signals down or staying extra after practice, we have to get together as an offense and help our defense out,” Kaaya said after the North Carolina loss.

The good news is that with Syracuse’s upset of Virginia Tech on Saturday, every team in the Coastal Division now has at least one loss. A victory on Thursday would keep the Canes in contention. However, a third consecutive conference defeat would spell an end to any hopes of playing for a conference title.

That would be devastating for a program with such promise after opening the season with four consecutive victories.

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