A long list of issues exposed in defeat
It was a fitting end for what was a disappointing season for the Miami Hurricaes.
After falling out of the Top 25, weathering a midseason four-game losing streak, shuffling quarterbacks like a deck of cards, losing their defensive coordinator to the head coaching job at Temple and enduring a spate of embarrassing headlines generated by a spate of social media gaffes, the Hurricanes wrapped up 2018 with an embarrassing 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday night.
The loss was so ugly Hurricanes athletic director Blake James took the unusual step of posting a statement on Twitter late Thursday night saying he felt the loss to the Badgers was “unacceptable” and that he was “committed to getting UM football back to national prominence and that process is underway.”
Whether that means the Hurricanes will make changes to their coaching staff, scheme or personnel is unclear at this moment. But Thursday’s loss was more proof Miami has some severe issues that need to be fixed if they want to be not only a national championship contender, but a contender in the ACC where Clemson’s shadow looms large.
Here, a look at some of what we learned about the Hurricanes after their latest loss:
Richt’s seat is getting warmer...: It seems like a lifetime ago that Miami won 15 straight games between 2016 and 2017, clinched its first Coastal Division title and notched its first 10-win season since
2003 last year. But, it’s really just been (an eventful) 12 months. Since beating beating Virginia on Nov. 18,
2017, the Hurricanes have lost to Pittsburgh, Clemson, Wisconsin (in the Orange Bowl), LSU, Virginia, Boston College, Duke, and Georgia Tech and Wisconsin, again, this time in the Pinstripe Bowl. Coach Mark Richt has come under increasing fire from fans and former players to fix Miami’s unproductive offense and solve the Hurricanes’ quarterback woes. Things remain largely unchanged after all of those losses, which not only prompted Richt to be especially introspective after Thursday night’s loss. Things are not comfortable in Coral Gables right now.
...And he knows it: In his post-game comments to reporters, Richt did not mince words, saying he put this loss on him and no one else. “Starts with me,” he said, echoing a phrase Miami fans remember former Hurricanes coach Al Golden saying more than once late in his tenure. “That’s where the buck stops. Head football coach, play-caller, the whole bit.” Those comments, in and of themselves, were a change for Richt, who has throughout this disappointing season defended his play-calling and called for more execution. Also different? The fact he said “things got to get fixed” when asked if he would now consider bringing in help for the offense, which finished the regular season ranked 92nd among 130 national FBS programs.
There is — and has been — discord in the locker room: Even as the Hurricanes have stumbled through this disappointing season, they have done their best to avoid publicly pointing fingers at their teammates and coaches for some of the problems this year. Things were different after Thursday’s loss, with veteran offensive players like running back Travis Homer and offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis saying there was a lack of effort in Thursday’s loss. And defensive lineman Jonathan Garvin said Miami’s defense needs to get over its “victim mentality.” When pressed for clarification on that, Garvin said some
members of the defense think “everybody is wrong but us.” Those kinds of statements haven’t been made after the rest of Miami’s losses.
The offense is a mess: Miami’s six first downs against Wisconsin were the fewest they’ve managed in a game since that infamous 58-0 loss to Clemson in 2015 that marked the end of the Al Golden’s tenure at Miami. The Hurricanes were without Tyler Gauthier, their center who had started 29 straight games, because of what Miami described as “academic reasons” and his absence was felt. The running game couldn’t get going and was limited to just 121 yards — with 62 of those coming on a single run play from Malik Rosier. Only one receiver caught a pass and quarterback play was abysmal.
Miami better hope Williams is the answer at QB: Rosier was 5-of-12 for 46 yards with three interceptions against Wisconsin. When he was pulled from the game in favor of N’Kosi Perry, Perry fared just as badly, going 1-for-5 for 2 yards with a sack. . In his post-game remarks, Richt conceded he hadn’t been comfortable with either Rosier or Perry’s play but said, again, he went with Rosier as the starter because he “didn’t feel like [Perry] deserved the opportunity to start” because of a combination of his on-field performance and some off-field issues. Williams
reportedly flirted with the idea of transferring, but was convinced by Miami’s coaching staff to stay at Miami and now, the Hurricanes have to hope the former four-star prospect can be an effective option.
Homer can’t get his milestones: Former Oxbridge Academy standout Travis Homer has been one of the bright spots for Miami’s lackluster offense all season. He came into the Pinstripe Bowl needing just 31 yards to become only the 11th running back in UM history to total
1,000 yards in a season. He needed just 21 yards to also become the 11th running back in UM history to total
2,000 yards in his career. And all he was able to get was 16 yards on 10 carries. “I didn’t feel the energy when we first went out there, but it definitely went down more,” he said of how the Hurricanes responded after their rough start.
Life with Willis might be difficult: Let’s be clear: Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is a good running back. A very, very good running back who was the Doak Campbell Award winner this year. But, the Hurricanes were without Gerald Willis III, one of their defensive stalwarts up front, and that hurt the Hurricanes. A lot. The defensive tackle missed the game with a hand injury, and that meant increased playing time for Tito Odenigbo, Pat Bethel and Nesta Silvera. Were they able to make plays? Defensive end Jonathan Garvin said yes — but not enough. “You couldn’t help but think of Gerald, you know especially sometimes when they were kind of just pounding it down the middle,” Garvin said. Willis, a redshirt senior, is headed to the NFL now. And Miami on Thursday got a preview of what life will be like without him.
There was no happy sendoff for Diaz: Thursday marked the final game of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s tenure in Miami, who earlier this month was named the head coach at Temple. Diaz had said he wanted to come back and coach his Miami players one more time this season, and many of those players said they were inspired to put together one last impressive showing for him. They were unable to do that. The 35 points Wisconsin scored were the most any team has posted against Miami all season. After the loss, Diaz posted on Twitter he felt “feelings of disgust and disappointment” by the way Miami played Thursday.
There was no clarity from Miami’s drafteligible juniors: In the course of the coming days, several draft-eligible juniors will have decisions to make about whether to being their professional careers or return to Miami for their senior years. Linebacker Zach McCloud announced ahead of the bowl game he intended to return to school, but after the loss, Travis Homer said he has yet to make a decision. And Miami has not made linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney or defensive end Joe Jackson available for interviews since the end of the regular season. The deadline to enter the draft is Jan. 14.
Veteran players believe Miami’s woes can be fixed: As disappointing as Thursday was for the Hurricanes and as awful as their performance was, particularly on offense, several players said they believe Miami’s issues can be fixed if coaches and players are willing to work together. Jaquan Johnson, who has been one of Miami’s heartand-soul players the last two years, spoke plainly: “I definitely believe they can fix it. They just have to believe in each other and work with each other.”
Miami fans react as the Hurricanes trail Wisconsin, 14-3, in the first half during the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York on Thursday.