Just got back from the Orange Bowl and have to say I feel like I just spent four hours watching an instant replay of last year's FSU-UM game.
What happened to UM's new offense? Where was the scoring? Where was the deep passing, the running game?
UM fans are sure to bomb the radio waves today asking these questions and more -- and rightfully so. One look at the statistics and you see FSU was limited to one yard rushing the entire game. One yard. So how did UM lose despite giving up only one yard on 25 attempts? By rushing for only two yards themselves.
FSU's defense may turn out to be one of the nation's best. But last I checked, weren't the Seminoles supposed to be replacing 7 starters and four first round draft picks on defense? As good as the Seminoles 'D' might turn out to be, the reality is UM's offense -- right now -- is worse than a year ago. And the sad part is there may not be much improvement.
Miami's 132 yards of total offense (17 yards and only 1 first down in the second half) was worse than any performance last season -- including the 40-3 pasting LSU put on UM in the Peach Bowl when the Hurricanes produced a season-low 153 yards.
So what went wrong? After spending sometime in the locker room after the game chatting with offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, quarterback Kyle Wright, receiver Darnell Jenkins and running back Charlie Jones, I'll try to breakdown the offensive breakdowns.
The protection: For all the heat UM's offensive line took for giving up nine sacks in last year's 10-7 loss in Tallahassee, giving up only three sacks on a sloppy field with a freshman starting at right tackle and only one real experienced starter back shows me real improvement.
Sure, FSU disrupted UM's passing game with blitzes in the second half and held UM to two yards rushing, but the line's play didn't turn out to be as disastrous as most expected. Fox especially. Cristobal said he didn't make the decision to start Fox until moments before kickoff, replacing sophomore Tyrone Byrd, who came into the fall as the projected starter before a knee injury. Byrd didn't end up playing at all -- apparently because Fox, who became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line since Richard Mercier (1995), played so well.
To hear Cristobal talk about the line's play Download sept4_cristobal.mp3
The passing game: When I first met with new offensive coordinator Rich Olson the talk was UM's new plan was going to be to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers, something Coker said the team didn't do enough of last year with Sinorice Moss.
UM accomplished getting the ball into its playmakers, somewhat. Kyle Wright completed 18 passes on 27 attempts to seven different receivers -- including a span in the first half when he hit on 11 of 13. But truth be told, most of those completions were high percentage (less than 10 yards down the field) passes.
After attempting a bomb on the game's opening play to Darnell Jenkins, Olson pulled the reigns in tight and began dinking and dunking ball to Jenkins, Lance Leggett and Sam Shields. Jenkins and Leggett were the only players to catch a pass deeper than 10 yards down the field. When the fall began, Jenkins and Wright said they thought Wright would be throwing the ball deep (25-yards plus down the field) at least five times a game. It didn't happen Monday. UM ultimately only completed two passes longer than 19 yards.
Part of why UM struggled throwing the ball deep -- aside from the pressure -- was because tight end Greg Olsen, who was supposed to be the team's best offensive player, only caught 2 passes for 8 yards. When Olsen has been effective, he's pulled safeties his way and freed up receivers down the sidelines. He didn't do any of that, mostly because he was being bracketed by a safety and covered at times by the strongside linebacker and middle linebacker.
As for passing to the running backs. Olson said they would be much more involved. Not a single UM running back caught a pass, unless you want to lump H-Back Chris Zellner into that mix. He caught one pass for one yard. Zellner was really nothing more than a tight end, who occasionally lined up in the back field before moving in motion and lining up to block.
The running game: The 2 yards rushing as a team can be somewhat misleading. Kyle Wright was given -20 yards on eight attempts, plays that realistically were the result of scrambling and protection breakdowns.
Either way, the numbers starter Charlie Jones produced weren't pretty. Jones ran for 27 yards on 13 attempts (2.1) and had a long of 12. He didn't play at all in the fourth quarter and was spelled by freshman Javarris James. Jones said afterward it was "a coaches decision," and that he wasn't "the least bit tired." James didn't fare much better, finishing with only 4 yards on 3 carries (and a fumble he later recovered).
Part of UM's struggles on the ground could ultimately go back to the fact the team no longer employs a fullback. Olson got rid of that, hoping to run more two-tight end and three receiver sets. It will be interesting to see if the fullback makes a comeback in the coming weeks.
But ultimately, the fact James was the team's primary running back in the fourth quarter of a game UM trailed 13-10 should tell you something. Olson probably doesn't believe Jones or anybody else James passed on his way up through the depth chart is really capable of becoming the next gamebreaker UM sorely needs.
Which brings me back to my ultimate point on UM's offense and why it may not improve much this season -- the real talent on this team is young, freshman young. The fact UM had a true freshman starting at right tackle, a true freshman in the backfield in the fourth quarter and two true freshman in the top four receiver spots (one that was moved from corner in the past two weeks) is because the coaches know what the "other guys" aren't as special.
Truth be told, no true freshman would have smelled the field against FSU three years ago. UM was loaded with talent then. Look at the list of names at receiver Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne; running back Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore; tight end Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Shockey and Bubba Franks. All of these guys are starters or stars in the NFL.
When you look at the list of names to come out since, as UM's offense has steadily declined, the only offensive star has been Sinorice Moss (who came on in his senior year). One look at UM's current roster and there isn't an upperclassmen (junior or senior) you can honestly say other than Olsen who has the credentials right now to become a star in the NFL. And Olsen as big and as talented as he is, hasn't caught more than three passes in a game since last year's eight catch, 137-yard performance against FSU in the season opener.
So, I guess what I'm saying is before you rip UM's new offensive coaches to shreds, take a look at what they're working with. It may take a while before the real, future offensive stars of this team -- Shields, James and Hill -- start making the big catches in the fourth quarter, the consistent big runs the team needs, and help return UM's offense to what it once was (one of the nation's best). For now, the recent, same old mediocrity -- albeit with a new, three-to-five step drop -- might be all the Canes' offense is capable of in the games that really matter.
Anyway, I'm sure I didn't catch everything. Tell me what you think of UM's offense and what they need to improve immediately. Hey, you never know if one of your suggestions might make it back to the guys calling the plays.