Just when it appears the Hurricanes have bottomed out—this program reinvents ways to reach new lows.

The Pinstripe Bowl showdown against Miami and Wisconsin was expected to be somewhat of a slugfest between two underachieving teams that failed to live up to their preseason hype. Instead, the Hurricanes’ lack of offense was as exposed as it’s been all year. The Badgers got up early and piled on late, capitalizing on UM’s overall incompetence, personnel issues and vanilla play-calling by third-year head coach Mark Richt—who’s truly painted himself into a corner as year three draws to an ugly close.

Richt returned to his alma mater three years ago this month, having spent 15 seasons at Georgia on the heels of a decade calling plays for Florida State—where he coached up two Heisman winning quarterbacks and fielded an offense that helped claim two national championships.

Richt came up short with the Bulldogs in regards to winning the big one, though it was a successful run in Athens—going 145-51 in the competitive SEC, taking the conference twice and winning the division six times. All that said, Georgia—like many big time programs—is chasing a national title and Richt never reached the big games, making it a logical time to part ways, shake things up and start fresh.

Richt-to-Miami happened relatively quickly. Many clamored for the return of Butch Davis, but it wasn’t to be. The recently-fired Georgia leader also flirted with retirement; more time with family and to live out his faith, through missionary work or other ways of giving back. All of that went on hold when the alma mater called, though—as UM was a once-in-a-lifetime gig and too good to turn down.

TURNING-POINT MOMENT FOR BOTH UM AND RICHT IN ’15

As it all unfolded three years back, the hire was set to go one of two ways. The Miami job would either prove to a fountain of youth experience, where Richt would find himself reborn and rediscovering everything he loved about the sport; back to calling plays and coaching-up quarterbacks—or it’d prove to be too much, too late—which is how it’s feeling on the heels of a disastrous season.

As the years roll on, individuals go one of two routes. We’re either of the mindset that we’re constantly in a state of growth, learning, evolving and improving—or we cap off somewhere along the way, become averse to change and have done all the learning we care to do. We are who we are and we’re sticking to our guns, for better or worse.

Now that three years of the Richt era are in the books at Miami, it appears the Hurricanes’ leader falls under the latter—set in his ways and attempting to build the type of unit personnel-wise that he had in his heyday with the Bulldogs, opposed to keeping up with the times and assembling a squad based on the program he inherited and style of play that would prove most-successful at “The U”.

In short, wanting to run a pro-style offense isn’t the issue—it’s the refusal to adapt based on the roster Richt has, versus the one he desires—due to what’s worked in the past. Georgia’s old offense had success, barring one is fielding an SEC-caliber offensive line, has a stable of power running backs and a heady pocket-passer solid with his decision-making.

In three seasons at Miami, Richt hasn’t had that type of quarterback, that big and solid of a line, or the bruising-type backs he had at his disposal at Georgia—so why the overtly push to implement that type of offense when it clearly isn’t working? Even if that’s the long-term goal for Richt at UM, one has to adapt and create a workable system based on what is, not what they want down the road.

Furthermore, as many a commentator covering Miami games this season has shared during broadcasts—South Florida offensive players grow up playing in and are accustomed to the spread offense. If a head coach doesn’t want to adapt to the preferred style of the region—why take a head coaching job in said region; nostalgia, brand name and long-time ties aside?

INNOVATE OR DIE; A CHOICE EVERY PRO MUST FACE

Like fans being asked to adjust their expectations regarding where this Miami program currently resides (after 15 years of irrelevance), versus where they think it should be (based on nothing more than dominant play and success decades ago)—Richt must also realize he needs to work with what he has and accept what college football’s current landscape looks like going into 2019, opposed to trying to implement a preferred scheme, simply because it worked back in the day.

The phrase “innovate or die” has become a trendy one over the past few years. Change and innovation are moving things forward at a furious pace—and college football has well surpassed that of just being a sport, or game. It’s become big business and when a veteran head coach is earning over $4M annually—the expectation is to be great, not simply “good enough”. One must at least survive before they can truly thrive—and right now Richt is doing neither, which is why the heat has understandably been cranked up as Miami died a slow death in 2018, by way of zero innovation.

Barring none of that rings true with Richt, let’s break it down to a simpler principle for a man bold and fearless in regards to living out his faith. Proverbs 16 through18 seems on the nose and pretty applicable: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

The level of stubbornness displayed by Richt year three is certainly worth nothing; hardly the full-blown arrogance that many in today’s coaching profession possess—but certainly a belief that years of experience and past success somehow give him a pass when it comes to change, growth or compromise.

Again, is Miami’s head coach of the belief that at 58 years young he’s still growing, learning, evolving and must improve—or is ego leading the way, where Richt will remain inflexible; that old dog refusing to learn any new tricks and willing to lose his way, opposed to winning by way of compromise?

Weeks back, in the midst of UM’s four-game losing streak, the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson discussed the Hurricanes’ offensive woes with a high-ranking, unidentified Board of Trustees member. The nuts and bolts of that conversation; UM had upwards of $1M allocated for Richt to hire a quality offensive coordinator next season, as the the current offensive product has become a glaring problem to those in charge.

In the wake of that revelation, Richt reiterated his desire to call plays, while criticism for the offensive lack of production remained situational; blame doled out on a game-to-game basis—quarterbacking inconsistencies, receivers dropping balls, poor offensive line play, lack of execution—everything was at fault, outside of the play-calling.

Even more frustrating; after defensive coordinator Manny Diaz accepted the head coaching opportunity at Temple, with Ephraim Banda and Jon Patke promoted to co-coordinators—Richt stated that the vacant coaching would be used for a defensive hire, opposed to a more-obvious offensive one. The defiance of that sentiment came off personal; shots fired.

The sentiment and approach are both mind-boggling and unacceptable based on the defensive success versus the offensive’s lack of identity and plummeting production levels.

OFFENSIVE BOWL COLLAPSE SHOULD SURPRISE NO ONE

Winning has a way of masking flaws and issues; as proven with late season victories over Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. After being held to 13, 14, 12 and 21 points against Virginia, Boston College, Duke and Georgia Tech—N’Kosi Perry led Miami to a 38-14 win in Blacksburg, making the Canes bowl-eligible and providing a feel-good moment as the bleeding had finally stopped.

Lost in that shuffle, the fact that two big plays—a big run and a punt return that both found end zone—broke a three-point game wide open over a four-minute span. The following week, the Canes’ offense was back to sub-par form in a 24-3 victory over Coastal Division-winning Pittsburgh.

While the three-score beat-down looked good on paper, when getting under the hood—it was Miami’s defense, a yeoman’s effort from running back Travis Homer (168 yards on eight carries with a 64-yard score) and a monster 65-yard punt return from DeeJay Dallas that saved the day. Play-calling remained elementary and uneventful, while Perry—aided by several drops from his receivers—had an awful 6-of-24, 52-yard outing.

Lest anyone think the knocks on the offense are rooted in any exaggeration; the win over the Panthers proved to be the lowest passing total Miami has posting since joining the ACC in 2004.

Having seen the offense sputter down the stretch, coupled with Richt going back to Malik Rosier after Perry’s social media-related stupidity, in hindsight—what should’ve truly been expected against Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl?  Rosier—aside from hugely regressing as a whole this season, after over-achieving last year—hadn’t played since the loss to Duke on November 3rd. The lack of playing time, combined with an average skills set and a full-blown loss of confidence—it proved to be as big a disaster as one could’ve expected.

Down a score three minutes in—Rosier tossed an interception on the Hurricanes’ first offensive play from scrimmage. One play and seven yards later, Jonathan Taylor punched it in to extend the Badgers’ lead to 14-0.

Again, sticking with the theme of bottoming out and if something can go wrong for these Hurricanes, it will—it was already worst-case-scenario, disaster-mode for Miami three-and-a-half minutes into the game; down two scores to a fundamentally-sound squad, while trotting off a horrific offense.

The Canes’ defense held strong, aided by two missed field goal attempts from the Badgers—and were miraculously only down 14-3 at the intermission; which was where Richt made his most unacceptable mistake of the evening—inexplicably sticking with Rosier after the intermission.

Confusion surrounded the status of Perry all week, but at kickoff it was announced that the maligned r-freshman wasn’t suspended—he simply lost the opportunity to start; an acceptable slap-on-the-wrist punishment for a three-month old explicit Snapchat video that resurfaced weeks back.

Miami had six first-half drives led by Rosier, not counting running off the clock with :19 left before halftime. Over that span, No. 12 turned it over twice and was 3-of-7 for 12 yards—the r-senior’s only success coming on two running plays; a 62-yarder that ultimately resulted in a field goal and a 21-yard escape on 3rd-and-11 that was short-lived when Homer mishandled the snap on first down and fumbled away.

Furthermore, the play-calling showed the lack of confidence in Rosier’s (lack of) abilities—proven with several runs on first and second downs. Even with that, there were two first down, drive-killing interceptions.

SECOND-HALF FOCUS NEEDED TO BE ON FUTURE, NOT PRESENT

Miami entered the second half with a sideline report that Richt had Rosier on a “short leash”—which was still nonsensical considering how terrible No. 12 played in the first half. Had this been a game months back with conference implications on the line—maybe you ride it out with your veteran—but we’re talking about a mid-level bowl game on the heels of a five-loss season and sticking with a r-senior despite having a handful of freshman quarterbacks who desperately need game experience.

This wasn’t the time to ride-or-die with No. 12; repaying loyalty because he was a kid who “did it the right way”—it was time to throw Perry or Jarren Williams into the fire to see what either could do—and with enough game left to do it in.

Instead, Richt waited until the 3:36 mark in the third quarter—on the heels of a four-play, 59-yard Wisconsin scoring drive, where the defense finally broke—after Rosier’s third interception of the night.

At worst, give Perry a shot down 14-3 to start the third quarter—and if he falters, Williams gets his shot in the fourth quarter. Worse than the wasted opportunity itself; the fact a veteran head coach like Richt would either prove so stubborn, or foolish in such a painful obvious moment. Pride is the mask of one’s own faults.

As expected, Perry came in cold and inexperienced—looking for favorite target Brevin Jordan twice within his first three attempt, resulting in a three-and-out—putting a tired defense back on the field in less than two minutes.

On Perry’s next attempt, an interception when forcing a pass on third-and-long. Wisconsin capitalized, making the Canes’ defense look foolish by way of a perfectly-called naked bootleg with quarterback Jack Coan, who skipped in virtually untouched—everyone understandably jamming up the middle of the field, expecting another handoff to a running back.

Perry got one final crack, couldn’t move the ball and Wisconsin took over—chewing up the game’s final seven minutes—picking up three first downs and putting an exclamation point on the game with back-to-back runs, opposed to a victory formation with 1:02 remaining. Badgers’ head coach Paul Chryst, knowing his team left points on the field with a few field goal misses early-on, gave it to a back-up running back with :08 left on the clock, punching it in for a final score—an understandable move to show how lopsided the game really was.

JAMES FIRES FIRST SHOT; HOW WILL UM TOP BRASS BACK IT UP?

Miami athletic director Blake James issued a post-game statement—calling the six-loss season “unacceptable”, while delivering the expected chatter regarding the Canes competing for conference titles and national championships. James signed off with a blurb about Richt being alongside him in that “commitment to excellence”; though it seemed more like an afterthought than any outright backing of the head coach.

What this ultimately means and how it plays out—time will tell. While the beat-down remains hard to swallow, the lone saving grace in Miami getting shellacked at that level; there’s nowhere to run or hide from this one. The Hurricanes have played nine Power Five teams over the last 16 games—dating back to a loss at Pittsburgh last November that ended a 15-game win-streak—and have posted a dismal 3-9 record against said competition.

While a season-opening loss against a quality SEC foe like LSU could somewhat be forgiven three years into a rebuild—regular-season losses against average ACC competition—with the talent Miami has—is downright repugnant. Even more egregious; getting walloped by a five-loss Wisconsin team after citing “revenge” as a motivator, based on how last year ended—the supposed “payback tour” starting and ending with Pittsburgh weeks back.

One could build a digestible storyline around a national title contender like Clemson—years ahead of Miami in their process—taking out the Canes, 38-3 in UM’s first visit to the ACC Championship last fall.

Take your lumps. Use the loss as a motivator. Let it fuel the fire to win the division and get a rematch.

When that didn’t come to fruition, on to Plan B and the next-best tactic—closing with a three-game win-streak and attempting to show the program was pointed in the right direction; crucial on the heels of losing Diaz to Temple and watching a recruiting class unravel.

The only thing Miami couldn’t do was the one thing that took place—a offense-less, next-level blowout; one so lopsided that it’d leave even the most-optimistic, process-trusting, logic-driven supporter questioning everything about the current state of this program and its (lack of) leadership, top to bottom.

LOCKER ROOM UNRAVELING; POIGNANT END TO NIGHTMARE SEASON

In the wake of the bowl loss, players vented frustrations they seemed to have been sitting on all season. Months back, running backs coach Thomas Brown mentioned some offensive players not buying in; referring them as a “cancer” to the program. This time around, it was outgoing offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis, who’d played his final game in a Hurricanes’ uniform.

“I don’t know if it was some guys that might not be 100 percent in and [were] just trying to get it over with, the season or maybe there were some guys that maybe felt things were unfair,” St. Louis shared in unfiltered fashion. “Mainly, I think we probably can’t have the mindset of this is the rematch, they beat us last year in our hometown, this is a perfect place, we have them exactly where we want them, we’re going to come in and dominate. Then when things didn’t happen like that, everyone just got comfortable saying ‘It’s OK’ … Guys just went back into their shells.”

Sophomore defensive end Jon Garvin also spoke unfiltered regarding perceived issues on his unit’s side of the ball.

“Another one of those things we have to correct—I would say the victim mentality,” Garvin said. “And I believe we’re guilty of it as a defense. You know, I don’t know they do on offense, but I know we’re guilty of it. We want to blame everybody else except for ourselves and it led to how many points they scored tonight.

“And that was all of us. We can’t blame that on anybody else. We’re playing the victim—like everybody is wrong but us. But we could have done better.”

Things getting worse before they get better; an all too familiar a refrain for Miami football over the years—and one that doesn’t seem on the mend anytime soon, as these problems run deep, which seems unfathomable based on Richt’s experience and time spent at two major, champion-caliber programs like Florida State and Georgia over the past quarter century.

Discord and a broken internal culture; that made sense with a first-time head coach like Randy Shannon, or not-made-for-primetime Al Golden—but this shouldn’t be the stance of the locker room under a proven entity like Richt. That bit of information is as hard to process as a six-loss season, or bowl beatdown against an average foe.

THE FUTURE STARTS NOW—WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?

All one can truly hope for at this rate—a full offensive overhaul with a quality hire, a trust that Williams can prove to be that missing, much-needed quarterback puzzle piece, a pipe dream that a few key defensive would-be seniors return for one final go-around and a desire that Richt has his personal come-to-Jesus moment regarding the job he signed up for three years back.

Anything outside of that and the regression will continue until this regime comes to a close and Miami is forced to start all over again.

This isn’t a time to double-down on pride, or to refuse to admit what-is. There is no point to prove here or sales pitch regarding what worked in the past. The only answer for Richt is self-evaluation, unabashed honesty regarding what is, personal inventory regarding what it will take to accomplish the task at hand and a wholehearted understanding that change and growth are the only path for the University of Miami to get back on a proper track.

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