Three consecutive losses after winning the first four contests of Mark Richt’s tenure as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes might not mean they’re free falling. But if you listen closely enough, you can almost hear Tom Petty singing in the background.
The Canes dropped their third-straight game last week, all in ACC action, and find themselves at 4-3 for the season and 1-3 in conference play. Gone is any real possibility of winning a first-ever outright ACC Coastal Division title; a prize Miami was considered the favorites for just three weeks ago when they climbed to No. 10 in the nation. A first-ever appearance in the ACC Championship Game remains a dream that must be tucked away for another year.
But the Canes began their descent to a common place. The Florida State matchup has become the make-or-break game of the season for a Canes program desperately trying to reclaim its place among college football goliaths. Lately, however, it’s been more break than make. Miami is now 1-6 since 2013 in the first two games following a loss to their arch-rival, which now has reached seven straight.
So where to the Canes go from here? At 4-3 they’re exactly where they were a year ago when, following a 58-0 home loss to Clemson, they fired their head coach.
Now, Thursday’s loss in Blacksburg isn’t as devastating to the program as the one the Tigers put on them a year ago. And nobody is going to get fired over it. But it does raise some rather serious questions.
What are the reasons for the trend in which the team is currently headed, and can it be turned around before the possibility of a bowl game goes out the window? Granted, the loss to your arch-rival stings, there’s no denying it. It’s one of the most bitter rivalries in all of college football. The pain of that defeat lingers. And to make it worse, the way in which the Canes lost the game — a blocked extra-point — only adds to the devastation.
But that’s where leadership comes in, and Richt has to step to the plate and take responsibility for that. Perhaps there is a lack of leadership within the team, as well. If so, it would explain the rather lethargic effort on Thursday.
Injuries are playing a factor, especially within a program not fully recovered from sanctions where depth is still a real problem. The Canes have played with four freshmen on the defensive front seven.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya hasn’t been the same since injuring his throwing shoulder in the Florida State game. He was not sharp last Saturday against North Carolina but did look much better on Thursday, throwing for 323 yards and two touchdowns on a 23-for-38 night with one interception. However, he was seen in some discomfort late in that game winding his arm between plays.
He’s still not 100 percent and neither is the Canes’ defense. But it’s the time of the year when injuries begin to mount up, for some teams more than others. The Canes have a couple of extra days, having played on Thursday, to try and heal up for a stretch run beginning Saturday, Oct. 29, in South Bend, where the Canes will take on a reeling Notre Dame squad with injury problems of its own.
Richt’s honeymoon is officially over. Now, it’s time for him to come up with some answers before the season spirals completely out of control.