The rocky post-regular season road continues to be an unintentionally scenic one for the Miami Hurricanes. Two weeks back, third-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz took his talents to Philadelphia, signing on as the new head coach of the Temple Owls.

The unexpected move called for quick action in Coral Gables; resulting in head coach Mark Richt promoting Ephraim Banda and Jon Patke to a co-defensive coordinator role—the only logical move for the Hurricanes, as both were invited to join Diaz.

Three coaches gone from the second-ranked defense in the nation—a week before the early signing period; it would’ve been next-level disaster for the most sound aspect and unit at “The U”.

Amidst the early signing period; one which already lacked some luster as a five-loss regular season had some “verbally committed” players backing out—the day was overshadowed by news that quarterback Jarren Williams was planning to transfer.

247Sports broke the story—only to re-break it a day later, with scoop that after a conversation with Team Richt, the true freshman is going to stick around and compete.

Whatever shortcomings Miami is dealing with regarding the decommits from the #Surge19 class—only 16 current signees as a five-loss season caused some to jump ship—nothing would’ve been more detrimental to the Hurricanes than losing the 4-star quarterback-of-the-future before he had a chance to make his mark.

Williams twice committed to Kentucky, only to land with Miami—decommitting from the Wildcats a day after the Hurricanes rolled third-ranked Notre Dame last November; a game he witnessed in person.

“The atmosphere, it was real electric,” Williams told 247Sports. “The fans they were really into the game and real passionate. Also just being able to see everything, see the campus, and I got to sit down and talk to Coach (Mark) Richt and get to know them a lot better. The highlight was getting to know them better and getting to be around the team. It was a real good experience for me.”

As swayed as Williams was with that raucous environment and smackdown of the Irish—his lack-of-use as a true freshman at Miami this season had the exact opposite effect. Outside of mop-up duty in a rout of Savannah State early September, where Williams was 1-of-3 for 17 yards, while rushing twice for two years and a score—the true freshman never saw the field; the Hurricanes rotating between r-freshman N’Kosi Perry and the r-senior Malik Rosier all fall.

After a four-game losing streak had the wheels falling off, with Rosier banished to the bench the final two showdowns—Williams expected to see some playing time, but got himself suspended for a road trip to Virginia Tech; a game where Perry shone in the rout, leaving him as Richt’s best option going into Pittsburgh six days later.

Add it all up—while also factoring in Kentucky’s 9-3 season, including a win at Florida that broke a 31-game losing streak—and it’s not hard to see where Williams was leaning on emotional, over logic. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Miami’s staff was able to get No. 15 refocused and remembering why he chose Coral Gables in the first place.

Whoever Miami missed out on with the early signing period—it pales in comparison to the shape this program would be in going into spring football without Wiliams in the mix and no viable option under center, outside of two current r-freshman who have underachieved.

The biggest reason for this season’s 7-5 stumble? Look no further than inconsistency at quarterback, low-lighted by the fact that neither Perry or Cade Weldon made the most of their true freshman seasons—learning the playbook and putting in work to unseat Rosier by spring. All the knocks this fanbase had on No. 12 for being a below-average quarterback (who overachieved last season), or Richt, who was forced to stick with him, opposed to handing the job to one of two guys that hadn’t earned it—that same frustration didn’t carry over towards both Perry and Weldon not being ready for primetime.

Whether it was Perry suspended for the opener, Weldon suspended four games mid-season—or Perry’s social media antics, starting with the cash-flashing after the Virginia game and now rearing its ugly head again as a sexually-explicit video from mid-September has resurfaced; the only one taking the job seriously and staying the course was Rosie—which kept him running the show by default, despite his competitors having more natural talent and ability.

With Rosier gone next year and Weldon not seeming like he’ll turn any corner—the job would then be Perry’s by default in 2019, had Williams left. Detrimental as it would be to have such limited bodies on the roster—made worse by no quarterback in the #Surge19 class, or any solid potential graduate transfer options—the lack of competition is equally as disheartening.

Two things are a constant when talking about quality Miami Hurricanes squads back in the day; a talented quarterback under center, as well as the competitive battles taking place at Greentree, being the lifeblood of this program. UM needs to get back to both to become “The U” again.

That doesn’t mean the Hurricanes will ever get *back* to the elite, ahead-of-the-curve level that spawned a Decade of Dominance, while changing the way the college game was played—but there are certainly some tenets and and building blocks necessary to make the most out o what present-day Miami has, helping the Hurricanes again become a true competitor.

Look at the quarterback position since Ken Dorsey rode out of town early 2003—38-2 as a starter, having won a national championship and having a second one stolen. Brock Berlin followed; the Florida transfer not getting his due, playing in Dorsey’s shadow—going 20-5 over two seasons and beating the Seminoles and Gators a combined five times over that span.

Since then, a revolving door of mediocrity, underachievers, or guys with potential who came to the right place, at the wrong time. Kyle Wright, Kirby Freeman, Jacory Harris, Robert Marve, Stephen Morris and Brad Kaaya all led to two seasons of Rosier, with a couple of r-freshman not taking the gig seriously, while a true freshman—who almost transferred—learned the ropes.

In defense of many of those aforementioned names, the fact that the coaching staff was also a hot mess during their tenure, as well. Wright’s story alone is a microcosm of the issues Miami has faced since the decline started 15 years back.

Arriving in 2003, redshirting and graduating in 2007—Wright had two different head coaches and four different offensive coordinators over that span; Rob Chudzinski year one, Dan Werner the next two seasons, Rich Olson year four (with Todd Berry in some strange, forced co-offensive coordinator power struggle), followed by Patrick Nix year five.

The inconsistency at Miami has been next-level shocking over the past decade-and-a-half; making the need for consistency even more important than ever. Going back to Diaz’s departure and taking the Temple job; disastrous had both Banda and Patke left, as well. Promoting the two assistants to co-coordinators was consistency-driven—opposed to a forced revamping for the one side of the football where the Hurricanes have found success the past three seasons.

Retaining Williams was another small step towards consistency and building towards something bigger; especially as Perry continues his immaturity-related backsliding—another social media-related setback making waves less than a week before the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin (as well as other rumors that would lead to a four-game suspension if proven true.)

Next step; the Hurricanes need to actually get production out of their ninth option at starting quarterback since Berlin’s departure. Should Williams step in and play up to the role, instead of down—like so many of his predecessors—only then will Miami truly be on a road to recovery.

Quarterback success will also help solve the “chicken versus the egg” debate in regards to play-calling and execution problems Miami continues having with their anemic offense.

Going into the bowl game, UM ranked T-91st in total offense for 2018—down from last year’s ranking of 57th, which was an improvement on 2016′s ranking of 68th. Still, the lack of production has many calling for more play-calling innovation—which is a tall order when there’s no stability at quarterback, offensive line and receivers are dropping balls at an alarming rate.

Perry was 6-of-24 for 52 yards in Miami’s 24-3 regular season-ending victory over Pittsburgh—a game where his receivers dropped seven passes, easily leaving a few scores on the field, while resulting in the Hurricanes’ lowest passing total in an ACC game; something that never should’ve been the case based on some good throws with yards-after-catch potential.

As it goes in sports, winning is a cure-all. Case in point, Miami’s comeback victory against Florida State in October—down 27-7, though ultimately prevailing, 28-27. Lost in the shuffle, the fact that the Hurricanes’ offense went into a first half hole and relied on two huge defensive turnovers, setting up short fields and quick scores—as well as a FSU trick play touchdown (rightly) getting called back—setting up the thrilling win.

Post-game, Miami offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier admitted his unit got worked.

“We got our tails kicked most of the game against FSU. We came back at the end because of the defense. Then we came out here and we played like we are going to get our tails kicked again. I don’t want that to happen. It isn’t going to happen around here.”

“It wasn’t even mental mistakes,” Gauthier said. “It was just getting beat. You can’t have that happen. When you are one-on-one you have to win. I tell guys if you mess up once, that is fine, but don’t let it happen again. If you are going to mess up, you have to learn from it.”

The Hurricanes gave up five sacks to the Seminoles and flat-out got owned—which would’ve been the headline in a loss, but seemingly got buried in the win. Such was the story in 2017 when Miami eked out wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina, en route to a 10-0 start that just as easily could’ve been 6-4.

Until Miami gets things worked out personnel-wise on the offensive side of the ball, it’s senseless to over-scrutinize the play-calling—especially when things are simplified to account for quarterback inconsistency (Perry) or a reduced skills-set (Rosier). Once the Hurricanes have a starter under center who is the entire package—arm strength, precision, wheels, decision-making, maturity and leadership; as well as an offensive line doing its job—that is the day the critiquing of the play-calling officially begins.

That type of success also changes the narrative in regards to recruiting; another Catch 22-type scenario Miami must continue darling with—unable to reel in talent until consistently winning double-digit games-per-season, but also unable to win at a high level without those next-level players needed to become a contender again.

Gone is the era of the player who understands a long-term vision, ready to sign on to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Guys like Edgerrin James, Ed Reed, Dan Morgan, Damione Lewis and Reggie Wayne, who all god on board when the getting wasn’t good—but they took pride in being the guys who put the Hurricanes back on the map. (Hell, Santana Moss isn’t even listed in the 1997 football media guide as a signee—as he took a track scholarship to play for UM.)

Those guys took their 5-6 lumps in 1997, lost the Big East title game at Syracuse, 66-13 a season later—but closed strong with an upset of No. 2 UCLA that brought Miami one step closer to that goal of relevancy. A few missteps in 1999—a second half collapse against East Carolina, weeks after taking No. 2 Penn State to the wire and upsetting Ohio State in the opener—but still getting closer.

Also lost to both Florida State and Virginia Tech that season—the Seminoles and Hokies meeting in the national championship game—but a season later, Miami took down both in a 2000 season that should’ve resulted in a title game birth, but instead, a snub. That snub was enough for Reed and Bryant McKinnie to return for their seniors years in 2001, when more guys still believed in an “unfinished business” team mantra. A year prior, Morgan, Moss, Wayne and Lewis all brought it back for one more go-around, too.

Contrast that to a snapshot of what Miami’s dealt with in the last year, alone—R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton both ignoring sound advice to return for their senior years, dropping like rocks in spring’s NFL Draft and going in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively.

Meanwhile, two r-freshman quarterbacks with golden opportunities to unseat a r-senior intended to be a perennial back-up—neither puts in the work to earn the job, while both found themselves suspended at various points of the season.

A big-time receiver—Jeff Thomas—decides he’s frustrated with a lack of playing time, gets into it with coaches—physically and verbally—and is off the team late in the year, transferring back home to play for an Illinois squad that is 9-27 the past three seasons.

Hard to not see this as another short-term thinking-type situation where a high school phenom is dealing with entitlement issues, preferring to be that big fish in a little pond at a lesser program, instead of doubling down on the worth ethic to truly be “the guy” at Miami—the home of many a legendary receiver.

Now, the latest in this ongoing saga; Williams—who chose Miami over Kentucky in a knee-jerk manner, enthralled with that epic pasting of Notre Dame—getting cold feet because his true freshman season didn’t play out in storybook fashion.

Keeping No. 15 from bailing out was the necessary first step to set the table for springtime success, though the heavy lifting is still there—both for Miami coaches, as well as a quarterback who momentarily lost his way. Rebuilding efforts truly started three years ago with UM’s fourth head coach in a ten-year span.

To expect to be *back* or anything close as year three draws to a close—it remains rooted in where one wants this program to be, versus history, reality and where things should be at this point of the process.

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