Mark Richt would like to continue the brand of football that brought success to Georgia for more than a decade. It’s a brand of football that worked through four games of his inaugural season as the head coach at Miami.
Maybe there’s something to the claim that the opposition was the reason for the Hurricanes’ success on the ground over the first month of the season. It was a tough, physical brand of football; a solid run game complemented quarterback Brad Kaaya’s ability to throw down the field, keeping defenses off the junior signal-caller.
As the season has continued, it’s become clear that the physical style the Canes were winning with early is no longer viable. After winning his first four games with Miami, Richt has now lost four straight following Saturday’s 30-27 defeat in South Bend.
The fight was evident on the Canes’ sidelines for 60 minutes on Saturday. Miami never got down nor did it give up even after falling behind 20-0 early. The Canes scored 27 unanswered points and led in the fourth quarter.
Still they didn’t do it the way Richt would probably prefer to. In fact, it was the opposite approach that made the difference. Throwing on running downs produced the most offense for Miami and kept the Irish defense off balance. It just wasn’t quite enough on Saturday.
What started out to be a special season, with real aspirations of winning a first outright Coastal Division title and making a first-ever trip to the ACC Championship Game, teeters on the real possibly of missing a bowl game. That hasn’t happened since Al Golden’s first two seasons at Miami in 2011 and 2012.
The Canes have played in bowl games in 15 of the last 18 seasons, but if this trend continues, they could be sitting home for the holidays. Right now the Canes aren’t blocking well enough, neither at the point of attack with linemen nor on the outside with receivers, to be the physical run-first team Richt has grown accustomed to coaching.
Exacerbating the problem is a Miami passing attack that has deteriorated due to Kaaya’s sore throwing shoulder and the necessity to throw, rather than the preference of it. Constantly falling behind the chains, the Canes have put pressure on a passing game that isn’t fooling anyone.
A gun-shy quarterback not mobile enough to evade the pass rush, Kaaya had landed on his backside more than any other quarterback in the conference (13 sacks) over the last four games heading into Saturday’s contest.
First-down throws, which became more prevalent in the second half against Notre Dame, were far more effective on Saturday and helped the Canes get back into the game. Still, it’s not the style Richt would prefer the Canes to employ. It’s not what he’s used to as a head coach.
At least he’s smart and flexible enough to make the adjustment when necessary. Richt isn’t afraid to implement a variation of his intended offense until he can recruit the athletes in the trenches to control games with long drives generated by the run game.
Now it will be interesting to see if Richt and Miami use that approach moving forward rather than waiting to fall behind by 20 points to do so… or will Richt continue with what he’s familiar with and do or die with that approach?