Question 1: The biggest mismatch in the Orange Bowl was pretty clearly at the QB position. This was Malik Rosier’s chance to really stake a claim to continuing as the starter, and he missed that chance. What would it take for Rosier to be the starter in 2018?
Clarke: We heard the story numerous times early in the year, when Rosier was playing his best, that Mark Richt had told him “You’ll never play QB for me.” The story was told to show how much Malik overcame in becoming the starter, but I always read it more at face value – he lacks some qualities that you need to be a successful QB at the elite level of college football. Richt has now signed 3 quarterbacks since he arrived at Miami, 2 of whom were highly-touted top 10 guys in N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams. Perry has had a full season to absorb the playbook, standing next to Richt while all the plays are called. And Williams will enroll early, something Perry was unable to do last year. For me, those two have the best chance to unseat Rosier as starter. We saw how long Richt gave Perry to win the job in fall camp last year. I just can’t imagine he doesn’t turn to him (or Williams, if he absorbs everything quickly) for the higher upside.
Thomson: I still think it is his job to lose. I know that’s not a popular opinion, and not even one I want to come to fruition, but there was a reason why he was the starter this year and that was because nobody else could beat him out. Now, of course, once we started winning, you would never burn a redshirt for Perry (or Weldon). Based on recruiting targets, I still think that Miami wants to be a power running, pro-style offense with the added element of being able to run with the QB when necessary. That type of offense requires some maturity to thrive in, and now that Perry has been on campus for a year, the hope is that he can take over. However, it would not shock me at all to see Rosier be the starting QB when the season kicks off in 2018, with lots of time given to Perry as well. I’ve long said the best case scenario is for you to bring in enough talented quarterbacks with the understanding that you are going to sit at least one year before getting to play, then preferably, ease into backup minutes your second year before taking over as the full time starter in your third year. Now, we may not have that next year with Rosier being able to hold off any of the young quarterbacks, but hopefully no matter who wins the job next year, they play at a high enough level to take us the next step.
Parasuraman: A combination of injuries, recruiting misses, and/or Rosier improving considerably. It would take N’Kosi Perry still somehow not being ready, Jarren Williams not being ready as a true freshman, and Cade Weldon’s suspension being a longer-term issue…or Rosier doing something to prove that he can provide more consistency. But without a game between now and the competition in Spring, Rosier probably missed his best opportunity to show something.
Mark Richt’s offense is all about execution. It’s not tricky or anything like that, it is supposed to be simple, make the right read and execute it. And I do think that will pay off handsomely in the future, because those are the offenses that have sustained success over multiple QBs. But it is just not a good fit for Rosier’s erratic style. It’s time to move forward with someone that can provide more consistency, and I think everyone is aware of this. I also don’t think Shirreffs will really factor into this, so I expect to see a “blown up” depth chart next year. With that said, I do think we were, as a fan base, way too quick to pin all the struggles over the last 3 games on Rosier. There were a lot of issues and it is lazy to just point to him and say “that guy” when a QB is underperforming. Rosier did a lot of good this year, and I don’t think we should let the last 3 games just crap on his entire season. It’s not really fair to him. I certainly don’t think he’s done enough to walk into the job as the starter next year, and I’d be pretty shocked if he is starting in the fall. In fact, without any knowledge of his academics, this is his 4th year at Miami so he should be able to graduate. I think there is a better chance of him starting at another program next year as a Grad transfer versus starting at Miami.
Question 2: With all the focus on the QB position, the difference in the game was actually 2 missed FGs for Miami (none for Wisconsin, which continued a trend this year where remarkably no opposing kickers missed a FG) and an INT thrown while driving on a play with an egregious pass interference. The team’s total yardage difference was only 23 yards. Does that make this result more of anomaly or do you view the gap between Miami and the upper echelon of college football to be this wide (meaning Miami can’t beat Top 10 caliber teams at this point)?
Clarke: It’s fair to say that a full strength Miami (with Walton, Herndon, and Richards) probably gets past Wisconsin, especially if you take back some of the brutal calls (the missed holding on a big third-down conversion, the aforementioned no-call of pass interference). But Miami’s goals are higher than going toe-to-toe with Wisconsin. Watching the playoff semi-finals last weekend, the major difference between those teams and Miami is the absurd depth, especially along the defensive front 7. Miami is another year or two away from being able to match up with those teams, especially late in the season after injuries have piled up.
Thomson: I thought the two teams were relatively even, and had Miami had competent QB play and kicking, we probably win the game. However, nothing about the game suggested to me that Wisconsin was in the upper echelon of college football, and the same could be said for Miami. Now that we’ve had a chance to see Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma play in these playoffs, it’s quite clear there is still a gulf between Miami and the upper echelon. And we’ve already seen first-hand what Clemson did to us. Miami’s upper-class talent was filled primarily with 3* recruits, and Miami suffered significant losses to its best players this season. Quite simply, the best schools have the depth to survive such losses without too much notice of a difference. Miami is not in such a position. At least not yet.
Parasuraman: I think it’s too easy to read too much into isolated games, even blow outs. Clemson physically manhandled Auburn, who physically manhandled Alabama, who physically manhandled Clemson…and if you watched any one of those games, it would look like the loser of the game would need years to get their depth/strength up to compete with the opponent. The transitive property just does not work in sports and I think Miami is a much better team or at least much closer to competing at an elite level than the last 3 games showed. The thing we did see in the Orange Bowl, that really did plague the Canes most of the year even in wins is consistency. Wisconsin executed at a much higher level, in terms of catching the ball, throwing accurate passes, and blocking. I think the talent gap was not nearly as large as the execution gap, and a lot of that does still play into the gap in time between now and the previous time Miami played in these significant games as a program. To put things in perspective, Wisconsin won the Big 10 three times since 2010, and has participated in 5 of the 7 B1G Championship Games. So, even though they’ve got a newer coaching staff as well, the program DNA is used to being in these moments, and that leads to a level of comfort which also leads to better execution. Executing better can go a long way to bridging a talent gap.
Also, there definitely should have been Pass Interference on the INT in the end zone, but Wisconsin’s first drive ended with a phantom fumble, so I’m not sure that non-PI call should factor into much.
Question 3: Zach Feagles was excellent in the bowl game. Punting was a major issue this season, particularly against Clemson and Pitt. Is this just a matter of a freshman punter getting more comfortable over the layoff? Given that you don’t really recruit multiple punters, is Feagles the man next year or do we see a walk on competing for the position (as we saw Feagles pulled against Clemson)?
Clarke: He’ll be the punter again. With some luck, the Canes will improve on third downs and we don’t have to use him as much anyway.
Thomson: Based on his pedigree, I think he’ll be the man in 2018 and beyond. I don’t remember the last time Miami had a true freshman punter that was dominant from the jump and played all 4 years. For that matter, there are not many true freshman that are dominant at the jump at any position.
Parasuraman: I think Feagles is the punter next year without much competition. We’ve had true freshman punters really struggle at times, and turn out to be solid. Let’s hope that the Orange Bowl was the first step in Feagles’ restoration process. With that said, the Canes were absolutely slammed on hidden yards and points this year, consistently losing the punting and FG battle. The FG thing is more due to a fluke in the opponents going perfect on the year, although Badgely did struggle down the stretch of the season, but the punting absolutely needs to be addressed. I just think it gets addressed in house with Feagles punting better.
Question 4: One of the issues the Canes had this year is with the offensive line consistently opening holes. Both KC McDermott and Trevor Darling graduate. How do the Canes improve as a unit here, which will likely be one of the major keys to a step forward in 2018?
Clarke: I think you miss the senior leadership of those guys more than you miss their abilities. There are guys who were heavily recruited behind them who will get their chance, but it’s often harder to predict whether an offensive lineman pans out. Regardless of which guys are in the final 5, the key this offseason will (once again) be to get stronger and more physical. This reared its head in a major way on short-yardage and goal-line situations, where Miami couldn’t simply lineup and run another team over for 3 yards. While we are here, I’ll go ahead and throw out my prediction for a week 1 starting 5, from left to right: Herbert, Scaife, Gauthier, Donaldson, St. Louis.
Thomson: It sounds ridiculous, but get better players, get stronger, and get better playcalling. In that order. Losing McDermott and Darling will be an issue, because they were 4* talents coming into Miami, and for the most part, played at a high level despite some less than stellar coaching. Miami has long struggled to attract quality offensive linemen, but this appears to be improving. It needs to get better if the Canes seriously want to compete for championships. The OL also needs to continue to get stronger, as they were often beaten at the point of attack in short yardage situations. Finally, I believe the playcalling had something to do with it as well, as there were not too many times when Miami just lined up in power run situations even against inferior opponents.
Parasuraman: I think the one positive sign is how well Navaughn Donaldson played as a true freshman. That does show that the Canes can prepare newcomers to play immediately. The Canes did already sign 3 highly touted recruits, and the depth chart is loaded with returning bodies. But Stacy Searels will have a lot of work to do build a cohesive unit out of this depth chart. Several of the more veteran players on the depth chart were reasonable recruits. It’s really difficult to say why they haven’t contributed yet. I do think Searels is a good coach, but at some point, this team just needs to be able to line up and knock people back consistently. We still have not seen that in 2 years, even against some of the weaker opponents. With all the RB talent the Canes have coming in and returning, this is probably the easiest way to fix the offense and make it less dependent on the QB. Hopefully there is just some improvement based on guys getting into their 3rd year in the system. But if there isn’t a step forward here, it’s hard to imagine the overall program taking a step forward.
Question 5: The Canes made lemonade out of lemons when Mark Walton went down, and unleashed a package with Deejay Dallas. With Lorenzo Lingard and Cam’Ron Davis coming in, and Travis Homer returning, what do you see Dallas’ role being going forward?
Clarke: Deejay should probably be used in the same way, if not slightly more frequently. With better QB play, he might not get the ball in the wildcat as often, but he’ll still see the field. He has dynamic acceleration, but I’m not sure you would ever use him as a full-time back. I personally think Lingard and Homer split the role of “main” running back, with Deejay being used as a utility guy.
Thomson: Probably the de facto 3rd down passing situation running back, as well as the wildcat running back. I also suspect he’ll get looks in situations where the running back motions to the slot. Simply put, I don’t think he’ll have a designated title or designated situation, but I do think the coaching staff will find ways to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
Parasuraman: I think we’ll still see the Wildcat package some, but I also expect to see him lineup as a WR. I think he might be more of a Swiss Army Knife for the offense…get him the ball on hand-offs, reverses, as a slot WR. The Canes have an entire offseason to develop a package for Deejay. I don’t think he will be the backup RB anymore, because I don’t think he gets pigeon-holed into one position.
Question 6: Lawrence Cager had his best game as a Cane in the Orange Bowl, stepping up and making a multitude of tough catches. With Ahmmon Richards returning from injury and Mike Hartley and Jeff Thomas likely seeing an increase in playing time, how important will Cager be in 2018?
Clarke: For his own sake, he needs to match that level of play, because there are a slew of talented freshman coming in that will make a run at playing time. He gives Miami a tall target, but I would like to see him take advantage of his size more often. Even with everyone healthy, the Canes rotated their receivers a lot, so he’ll definitely see playing time.
Thomson: Extremely important. All those guys are extremely important, because every single one of them can make a quarterback better as long as they are playing at the level they are capable of playing. Cager has a lot of natural talent, and it was great to see him finally display that in the Orange Bowl. Hopefully he uses that performance to jumpstart his 2018 season, which will not only take the pressure off whoever is at quarterback, but will also open up good looks for everyone else at receiver.
Parasuraman: I think Cager will be big for the Canes in the 2018 season. What we need to understand is that deep threats are great, but tall deep threats are better. Richards will resume his spot as the Canes #1 WR, but both Hartley and Thomas are undersized. There is a massive opportunity for Cager to really step into a consistent role. One of the strange things that happened this year (leaving out the crazy Dionte Mullins situation) is how WRs would feature in one game, then seemingly not play again for weeks, then re-emerge. Cager was definitely one of the WRs afflicted with that. The Canes brought in 3 big time WR commits already, and the coaches have shown a willingness to throw freshmen into the fire, so Cager won’t have many opportunities if he doesn’t step up, But he’s always intrigued me as a talent and I think we’re really starting to see that come through. Give him a healthy offseason, and I think he will be huge for the Canes in 2018.
Question 7: The Canes lose Chad Thomas and Trent Harris, but a lot of the rebuild on the defensive line will center around whether RJ McIntosh and/or Kendrick Norton go pro (Anthony Moten also graduates). Do you think Miami has the coaching and depth to overcome that level of attrition at the defensive line position?
Clarke: It seems like both defensive tackles plan to go pro. I think is a bit of a mistake, as neither seems to be getting a ton of draft buzz, but I’ll never begrudge a kid leaving and getting paid. The most important “recruit” might actually be Gerald Willis, who will return to the team. Nobody has ever questioned his talent, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to stay on the field for other reasons. Suddenly defensive end is a bit thin as well, with DJ Johnson announcing his plans to transfer. Miami will likely not be able to rotate at that position as much as they have the last two years. Only a fool would doubt Coach Kuligowski, given his track record. But Miami needs to pick up the pace on the defensive line recruiting and rebuild the depth. They would also benefit from the ACC learning how to call holding against teams that play Miami.
Thomson: No. Look, there’s still a lot of talent on the defensive line if those guys go pro, and the coaching is probably the best in the country. But I’ll keep hammering it home here – Miami does not have the depth yet to compete for national titles unless everything breaks perfectly as it nearly did this year. Miami is good enough – assuming it stays healthy – to compete with anyone. But it’s the grind of a long season that separates the competition. Frankly, I will never “hate” on a kid choosing to go pro, but if Miami is going to return to being Miami, it needs the guys that are borderline 2nd and 3rd rounders to stay in school.
Parasuraman: I’m kind of in the “In Coach Kool We Trust” camp. He continues to prove he can produce top quality D-linemen out of anyone. He did at Missouri and he is doing it here. As much as losing McIntosh and Norton would be a huge blow, I’m really intrigued by Gerald Willis’ return (Richt raved about his scout team work in October), and if the Canes can somehow rotate Willis, McIntosh and Norton next year…look out. I think losing Chad Thomas’ leadership is going to be a blow, but the Canes have enough depth here to overcome pretty much anything with Kool. It’s also worth noting that the Canes are still loaded at LB, and should have a lot more experience in the secondary, which means there should be less dependency on the DL.
Question 8: Which currently signed (not committed, but signed) recruit will need to have the biggest impact in 2018?
Clarke: There’s a lot of ways to go with this question. Lingard has the highest profile, and I’m sure he’ll see the field plenty. Both tight ends will see the field a ton, especially considering there’s not much in front of them on the depth chart. But given the problems Miami had at defensive back, I’m inclined to say that one of the newcomers there will have the most impact. I like them all, but I think Gurvan Hall is going to have the biggest impact at safety. He may not completely replace Redwine, but he’ll see the field plenty. That said, there are a couple of uncommitted cornerbacks from the same school in Plantation who, if they pick Miami, would instantly shoot to the top of this list…
Thomson: I somewhat want to be a smartass and say Bubba Baxa as the Canes need a replacement at kicker, and he’s probably the best in the country. That being said, I’m going with Brevin Jordan. Lingard will certainly get plenty of playing time, but Mark Richt loves to get the ball to tight ends, tight ends are a quarterback’s best friend, and Jordan looks like he’s ready to play from day one. I think he’ll immediately step into a role on this team that has him starting before the year is over.
Parasuraman: The easy is answer is Bubba Baxa, since he will be forced to impact every game with FGs, XPs and kickoffs. But let’s just take that one off the table and I say Lorenzo Lingard. I really like Travis Homer, who is a patient runner. But I LOVE the way Lingard runs North-South, attacks holes, and has little wasted movement when he cuts. That translates well to the next level. I also think looking at our recruiting with Richt bringing in a FB and 2 of the best TEs in the country, that there will be an increased emphasis on power running, perhaps even from under center. Lingard is the perfect back for that because he explodes through holes and then has the speed to go the distance. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is starting sooner rather than later.
Question 9: Mark Richt’s play calling, particularly in the red zone, has come under increased scrutiny as the offense continued to struggle down the stretch. Whether or not Richt should hand over play calling duties I believe to be a fruitless discussion, because I can’t imagine he will do that. But, with all college football teams able to add a 10th coach this year (it was previously capped at 9 coaches), should the Canes hire someone to at least assist with game planning/offensive quality control or do you see other needs as greater?
Clarke: I think it’s more likely the 10th coach is used on the other side of the ball. As of now, Miami has 5 guys on the offensive side and 4 on defense. Would the Canes be better off if Manny Diaz didn’t also have to coach a position group? The three young linebackers didn’t seem to make the sort of jump you would hope for after a full season of playing time. But if I had too choose, I’d consider a dedicated special teams coach. Hartley is doing double-duty with tight-ends right now, but the Canes’ special teams fell short in a number of ways this year. Did it ever seem like Jeff Thomas had space to make a guy miss on a kick return? How many times did Berrios have to call fair catch because he already had 3 guys in his face as the ball arrived? Miami simply hasn’t looked dynamic here, and given the explosive talent available to them, that should not be the case.
Thomson: I would hope that we hire someone for that role. Honestly, it’s not like Richt doesn’t know about struggles on 3rd down and in the Redzone, as he even quipped before the Bowl Game that we should have a “3rd down conversion chain” for the offense. While some of it could be blamed on the poor quarterback play, there’s also no denying that we didn’t exactly scheme around our known deficiencies. I agree that I doubt Richt gives up his playcalling role. But I also doubt we can find someone with an offensive pedigree coming into this staff to advise in that capacity considering we already have his son at QB coach, and Brown as the offensive coordinator. With that in mind, it would have to be someone that is either really up and coming, or someone on their way out the door that just wants to be around the game.
Parasuraman: I think hiring another offensive assistant would be a nice change, just because I believe in diversity of thought. But I also think, giving the limitations discussed elsewhere, that it is too early to judge Richt. With that said, the coaching staff that has influence over the play calling is all from the same school of thought. So I’d love to get an experienced assistant who is maybe looking for a more hands off approach to be a an adviser for the coaching staff just to help introduce new concepts or some sort of different approach that can be used. But, I doubt that type of coach is available and Richt is way too veteran a play caller to bring in someone green and actually have them influence him versus the other way around.
Question 10: The 2017 season was viewed largely as a success (despite the 3-game losing streak to end the season). Miami’s 2017 schedule is LSU (neutral site in Dallas), Savannah State, @Toledo, FIU, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Duke, North Carolina, @Virginia Tech, @Virginia, @Boston College, @Georgia Tech. That schedule includes 8 bowl teams from 2017, and 3 of the 4 teams that did not make a bowl game (Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina) had severe off seasons and came up just shy of bowl eligibility. What is a realistic result for this schedule next year, and is that consistent with where the fan base’s expectations are?
Clarke: Miami should win the ACC Coastal again. At this point, any expectation less than that is inadequate. I’m not well attuned to the fan base’s expectations, but if they think this is a national championship team, they are too high. I think a similar regular season (11-1) is a reasonable bar. The LSU game is not that concerning for me, and the Canes should get through their ACC schedule with no more than one loss. That almost certainly gets you back to the ACC Championship, unless Virginia Tech has an incredible season. And in Charlotte, whether its against Clemson again or a resurgent Florida State, Miami should be competitive, unlike this year. I expect the Canes to be in the playoff discussion late in the year once again, but I think they might still come up just a bit short.
Thomson: Well, the expectations from the fanbase are likely to be that it’s ACC Title and Playoff appearance or the season was a failure. I think I’ve made it clear here that I think we’re still two years away from those type of expectations being realistic, and that ultimately depends on what happens at QB in 2018. I do not think Miami has an issue with Savannah State, Toledo or FIU. I would also expect Miami to win the home games against Pittsburgh, Duke and North Carolina. While Virginia, Boston College and Georgia Tech are likely improved, those are still games Miami needs to win. That gets you to 9 wins, and the season will be defined by what happens with LSU, Virginia Tech and Florida State. We’ve seen FSU suffer a lot of defections to the NFL, but regardless, that is going to be a toss-up game. Virginia Tech should actually be better next year, and going on the road to Lane Stadium is never easy. LSU to start the season should have everyone’s attention all offseason, and I remain optimistic that Coach Orgeron cannot win the big games. It’s cliche, but Miami needs good QB play to win the ACC Coastal, and then hope for an upset against Clemson.
Parasuraman: LSU will set the tone for the season. The rest of the out of conference schedule, including that weird trip to Toledo, are completely navigable. So 3-1 should really be the worst out of conference record. The only other games that really concern me are FSU and @VT…and the Canes shouldn’t lose both or all the losable games. So I think 10 wins is a minimum based on the schedule. But 10 games were won this year, so I expect there to be a lot higher expectations, especially given the knock on Richt being that he can produce good, but not great, teams. Another similar season (9-10 wins, ACC Coastal Championship) would likely be the beginning of grumblings about Richt. Georgia’s success is also going exacerbate this and Richt really does need to at least win the ACC to keep the fans satisfied.