Heading into 2018, it was really easy to feel like coach Mark Richt and Miami were basically two “ifs” away from being a legitimate top-10 contender:
1. If they improve at the quarterback position…
2. If No. 1 receiver Ahmmon Richards can stay healthy after an injury-plagued 2017…
The Hurricanes had an exciting skill corps, and their defense appeared loaded once more. They needed just a little bit of development and a little bit of injury luck.
Just one catch into 2018, Richards didn’t merely go down; he also took a medical retirement from the sport. And the quarterbacks — mainly senior Malik Rosier and redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry — showed minimal signs of development in his absence. The defense was again dominant, but the Canes couldn’t score points and fell to 7–6.
Given the choice between re-tooling his offensive staff (which likely would have required firing his son, Jon, among others) or retiring, Richt chose the latter.
Former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who had just taken the Temple head coaching job weeks earlier, was brought home to manage yet another Miami rebound attempt. And once again, success will probably depend on fixing a moribund offense.
Previewing Miami's Offense for 2019
New offensive coordinator Dan Enos, most recently Alabama’s quarterbacks coach, will have plenty of young quarterbacks to choose from. Richt kept trying to give Perry the reins in 2018, and he kept proving he wasn’t ready. Perry now has to fend off redshirt freshman Jarren Williams and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell, who was granted immediate eligibility. Merely average QB play could make the difference in quite a few games.
Without Richards, Jeff Thomas took on a No. 1 receiver’s load from the slot, and freshman Brevin Jordan was asked to contribute a lot as well. They did alright — Thomas averaged 16.1 yards per catch with a 59 percent catch rate — but the Canes could have been more dangerous with a true No. 1 lined up wide.
Enter K.J. Osborn. The Buffalo graduate transfer caught 53 passes for 892 yards and seven scores last year. Between Osborn, Thomas, Jordan, and any number of recent blue-chippers, Miami could threaten to overwhelm opponents with exciting receiving options. Now they just need a QB to get them the ball.
Considering how little opponents had to respect Miami’s passing game, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas acquitted themselves awfully well on the ground. They were a bit on the all-or-nothing side, but there were quite a few “alls,” at least. Homer’s off to the pros, but Dallas could be ready for a star turn.
There’s quite a bit of retooling ahead for new line coach Butch Barry. Of the seven linemen who started at least five games last year, five are gone, including the two guys who started a combined 25 games (tackle Tyree St. Louis and Tyler Gauthier). The line was a work in progress in the spring and could remain so well into the fall.
Previewing Miami's Defense for 2019
Miami ranked first in the country in havoc rate (total combined tackles for a loss, passes defensed and forced fumbles, divided by total plays) and was equally disruptive against both run and pass. Ends Jonathan Garvin and Joe Jackson and tackle Gerald Willis III combined for 49.5 TFLs, 18.5 sacks and 11 passes defensed. Willis came out of nowhere for a monster senior year. Of this trio, only Garvin returns.
There are certainly plenty of breakout candidates, from senior end Scott Patchan to sophomore blue-chipper Nesta Jade Silvera to any number of transfers: Jaelan Phillips (UCLA - if eligible in 2019), Chigozie Nnoruka (UCLA) or Trevon Hill (Virginia Tech). Quantity is on Miami’s side here. So is Diaz’s track record.
The line has got one heck of a linebacking corps protecting it. Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney both returned for their respective senior seasons after combining for 25 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. Seniors Zach McCloud and Romeo Finley are back to man the striker position (basically a nickel linebacker) as well.
The front seven will need to remain heavy on the havoc. Safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine and corner Michael Jackson Sr. are all gone, and Miami will be hard-pressed to match last year’s rankings in pass defense (first in passer rating allowed, 11th in completion rate, 16th in interceptions). At least the Canes still have Trajan Bandy; the junior should be one of the best corners in the country. The rest of the spots are up for grabs, though. Diaz added yet another transfer in USC blue-chipper Bubba Bolden, who missed 2018 due to a suspension, and he signed three four-star freshmen as well.
Previewing Miami's Specialists for 2019
Miami might have been the worst punting team in FBS, and when you’ve also got major offensive efficiency problems, that’s a recipe for terrible field position. If junior college transfer Louis Hedley can right that ship, the Canes could have a solid special teams unit.
The burden of expectations will be a little lower than at this time last year, but it’s never very low at Miami. With mere competence at QB, and on offense as a whole, the Coastal Division is certainly within reach. But the Canes do bear the burden of proof this time around.