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Barry Jackson

UM reaches new low under Mark Richt. And here’s what must happen now

 

Just when you thought year three of the Mark Richt era couldn’t get any worse, UM loses at home to Duke for the first time since 1976, mustering just 12 points against an opponent that was scorched for 54 points by Pittsburgh last week.

So make it three UM losses in a row overall, and seven losses in the last nine games against Power 5 conference teams, and just five touchdowns in the past three weeks, which is unspeakably awful in this era of video game scoring in college football.

What’s more, UM hasn’t topped 14 points in three consecutive games for the first time since the final three games of the 2007 season.

Here’s what must happen next, after this 20-12 loss on Saturday:

Malik Rosier shouldn’t get another snap at UM, because with the Canes (5-4, 2-3) now long shots to win the Coastal Division, everything must be about building for the future and determining what players should be part of that future.

So N’Kosi Perry should start Saturday at Georgia Tech and play the entirety of the game, and Jarren Williams and Perry should split playing time against Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh and the bowl game, if there is one. (UM needs one more win to become bowl eligible.)

I wouldn’t play Williams next week because it would be pointless to burn his redshirt by playing him in four more games instead of three. Williams, who played against Savannah State, can play the two final games of the regular-season and the bowl game and still maintain his (redshirt) freshman status next season.

For those Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh games and the bowl game, I would go in intending to split time evenly between Perry and Williams, with the flexibility to adjust if one is playing well and one isn’t. That’s absolutely essential to get an early read on who should be the starter next season.

If Cade Weldon, back from a four-game suspension, does anything in practice to warrant game snaps, then play him a bit, too. But this program cannot afford to invest a single additional snap in Rosier.

Yes, as we wrote the past two weeks and ESPN’s Anthony Becht noted Saturday, Perry isn’t quick enough in picking up blitzers and isn’t as skilled as Rosier in making pre-snap adjustments. But only additional studying and game experience will solve that problem.

Perry was only 5 for 16 for 35 yards Saturday, but his pass protection was hideous and he did make some good throws on UM’s late drive. And DeeJay Dallas fumbled the ball away on one of Perry’s series (and one of Rosier’s).

Richt must meet with offensive line coach Stacy Searels and respected UM player personnel director Matt Doherty ASAP to determine whether adjustments need to be made in the type of linemen UM recruits or the regions where they’re recruiting. And Richt must determine why this line continues to play below its talent level and whether he wants to move forward with Searels.

It’s embarrassing for a program with this history to have a line performing as poorly as this one has this season in pass protection and at times in the run game (though not Saturday, when UM ran for a season-high 300 yards). On two pass-protection breakdowns on its final drive Saturday, UM had one or two more blockers than Duke had pass rushers.

Duke forced a Perry throw-away on the final drive by rushing only four. That shouldn’t happen when Miami plays Duke.

In Searels’ defense, running backs and tight end Brevin Jordan also must do a better job in pass protection. And as we noted, Perry must identify blitzers and make needed pre-snap adjustments more effectively.

Give extended playing time to receivers Brian Hightower, Dee Wiggins, Mark Pope and Evidence Njoku to give them the game experience they need to be more polished players next season.

Njoku’s lack of playing time (just 48 snaps before Saturday) is mystifying; one UM official said he was dynamic and exceptional in August practices.

And Pope, we’re told, needs to do a better job learning the playbook and not make mistakes in his routes.

For the vocal small minority that wants a head coaching change, that’s not going to happen so let’s not waste anybody’s time discussing it. It’s almost impossible to envision Richt being forced out anytime soon even if next season starts poorly, too. And with his body of work as a college coach, he shouldn’t be forced out this season, under any circumstances.

And though we don’t view Richt relinquishing play-calling as the total panacea that many of you do, we would encourage Richt to allow offensive coordinator Thomas Brown to call plays in one of the final four games, so that Richt has an idea if that’s an option he would like to consider this offseason.

I will be surprised if athletic director Blake James forces Richt to hire an offensive coordinator, or relinquish play-calling, if he’s opposed. That’s not James’ style.

I found this interesting: Though Rosier held players available for poor execution, he seemed to question the coaching in a postgame interview with WQAM on Saturday when he said: “We’ve got to learn to change when other people change, not give people the same look.”

But he’s the broader issue: Can Richt recruit the quality of elite athletes he lured to Georgia to successfully run his pro-style offense here?

Whether it’s Richt or Brown or (less likely, someone else) calling the plays in 2019, Richt deserves another recruiting class and another season with this offensive philosophy (albeit with more creativity injected and new wrinkles and more designed rollouts, among other things), because it was good enough for a lot of years in Athens.

But if it’s not good enough next year, if there’s not appreciable improvement offensively in 2019, then Richt cannot be stubborn and must implement a new offensive approach – perhaps the spread offense that has produced a flurry of points for a bunch of college programs.

Could it be justified to move to a new offensive philosophy next season? Absolutely. But Richt deserves another year to see if he can get it right with his offensive scheme, with some tinkering and perhaps more bells and whistles.

Though Rosier makes a valid point about the staff’s need to adjust better, the belief here is that this is more of a talent issue than anything else. UM has only one non-freshman elite talent on offense (Jeff Thomas) – and Miami’s quarterbacks can’t consistently get him the ball - and the impact of Ahmmon Richards’ loss cannot be understated.

A subdued Richt on WQAM afterward: “Malik playing mostly in the rain and the mud in the first half anyway. N’Kosi was in there when everyone knew we were going to throw the football. Those guys were able to tee off a little bit. They both played hard and did their best.”

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