With a 6-7 record last season, the Miami Hurricanes have more than a few things to work on during fall camp in August. Here is a look at five of the biggest and how Al Golden's team can potentially improve on each of them.
1) Rushing Defense
If an outsider looks at the Hurricanes' rushing defense from last season, they wouldn’t understand how bad that side of the ball was. Miami finished 28th in the nation against the run in 2014 but were historically bad in four of the team’s losses.
Miami gave up 343 rushing yards to Nebraska, 318 to Georgia Tech, 195 to Virginia and 226 to Pittsburgh. If the Hurricanes want to get back to contending for conference championships, those numbers are unacceptable.
The Hurricanes also finished 97th in the country in tackles for a loss. The team will need players like Chad Thomas, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Ufomba Kamalu to penetrate the offensive line and make plays in the backfield.
While Miami’s defense made strides and improved from the 2013 season, the 2015 unit will need to become more consistent stopping the run.
2) Third-down Conversions
Miami’s offense ranked 95th in the country in third-down conversations last season, with a rate of 36.8 percent. The Canes' offense often relied on big plays to score points.
Miami also had trouble sustaining drives in a number of their games and would repeatedly put their defense back on the field, only for them to wear down in the latter stages in the game.
Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford are all gone, so the Hurricanes will have to gradually get first downs this season. Quarterback Brad Kaaya will need receivers Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios, Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters to become reliable targets in third-down situations.
Play-calling on first and second down also is important if Miami wants to improve its success on third down. If the Hurricanes fail to gain yardage on first or second down, that also will decrease their chances of converting on third down.
3) Red Zone Offense
Too many times, mediocre teams rely on field goal attempts, rather than touchdowns. That was certainly the case with the Hurricanes in 2014.
Last season, Miami finished tied for 87th in the nation in red zone offense with a .787 percentage. That number has to improve if Miami wants to defeat teams like Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech this season.
4) Offensive Time of Possession
The Hurricanes ranked 78th in the country in time of possession last season with an average duration of 29.23 minutes per game. The team that holds the ball the longest usually wins the game, so this is a big deal.
In 2014, Miami’s defense wore down often in the fourth quarter and the team failed to play with the same type of energy as it did earlier in the contest. If the offense can run the ball efficiently, focus on short to intermediate passes and stop relying on the home-run plays, all phases of the team will improve.
5) Avoid the Florida State Hangover
Miami has just as much talent as any team in the ACC outside of Florida State and Clemson, but that has yet to translate into victories or division titles. The seven Canes selected in the 2015 NFL Draft last May is an indication of the talent on their roster.
Golden has to take a lot of responsibility in not maximizing the Hurricanes' full potential. In 2013, Miami started the season 7-0 before facing Florida State on Nov. 2. The Canes lost the game 41-14 and went on to lose four out of their last six games to end the season.
Last season, the Canes were 6-3 heading into the Florida State game on Nov. 15. Miami lost a heartbreaker 30-26 and then proceeded to lose four straight games to end the 2014 season.
Golden can’t continue to have hangovers after the Canes play Florida State, especially not this year. This year’s matchup against the Seminoles (Oct. 10) will be the team’s ACC opener. With games against Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech down the road, Miami can’t let the game against Florida State make or break its 2015 season.
The time for giving Golden and the Hurricanes the benefit of the doubt is now over. Miami has a lot of talent on its roster and a favorable schedule outside of playing Florida State in Tallahassee. If 2015 isn’t the year the Hurricanes win the ACC Coastal, then there could be some changes coming in Coral Gables.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.