Column: Despite win streak, Hurricanes still have room for improvement

Freshman safety Avantae Williams celebrates after recording his first career interception in Miami's victory over Georgia Tech Saturday, Nov. 6 at Hard Rock Stadium
Freshman safety Avantae Williams celebrates after recording his first career interception in Miami's victory over Georgia Tech Saturday, Nov. 6 at Hard Rock Stadium. Photo credit: Josh Halper

After a disappointing 2-4 start to their season, the Miami Hurricanes bounced back, defeating two ranked opponents on their way to what is now a three-game win streak.

Throughout that span, nearly every aspect of the Hurricanes’ game and approach improved. The offense, on the heels of their fourth straight game scoring more than 30 points, looked sharp, and the defense, while not perfect, improved in the area that crippled the unit throughout the start of the season – tackling.

While these improvements helped catapult the Hurricanes back into their winning ways, head coach Manny Diaz and his team must rectify a few noticeable blemishes that continue to hurt Miami throughout its season.

One shortcoming on offense that was apparent in last Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech was their ineffectiveness in short yardage – or situations aiming for three yards or less – on third and fourth downs.

Against the Yellow Jackets, the Canes only converted three out of their eight attempts in short yardage situations on third and fourth downs. Even worse, Miami did not convert any of its three attempts on third and fourth downs from a yard or less away.

“We were obviously disappointed to not be able to [convert in these situations] three times,” Diaz said. “That will be a big point of emphasis this week in practice to make sure we have a plan when yards are required because we could have taken a knee on that last one had we just taken the ball 36 inches.”

These short yardage struggles can be attributed to misuse of player personnel and repetitive play-calling by offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

On these third and fourth down attempts from less than a yard away, Miami handed the ball off to freshman running backs Jaylan Knighton, who weighs 190 pounds, and Cody Brown, who weighs 212 pounds.

The Hurricanes might have more success rushing the ball in these circumstances with freshman running back Thaddius Franklin Jr., who weighs 230 pounds. A heavier running back would more effectively fight for an extra yard or two than the lighter – albeit talented – running backs that Miami used against Georgia Tech.

The offensive play-calling in these situations also needs improvement, as Lashlee ran a similar inside zone play concept to the running backs on all third and fourth down failures from a yard or less away last weekend.

More creative play-calling in these situations is needed. One play concept that Miami could implement in these circumstances is the play-action, which would allow redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who has been excellent as of late, to decide where the ball should go in these key instances.

Miami also needs to do a better job at winning the turnover battle, as that has been an issue for this team all season long, even throughout their winning streak.

Over their last three games, the Hurricanes have an average team turnover margin per game of -0.3. While this is superior to their season average of -0.9, it still signifies that Miami is giving the ball away more often than they are taking it away.

This ball security issue was especially evident last Saturday, as the Hurricanes fumbled the ball three times.

“I was being too careless with the ball,” Knighton said when asked about his fumble that resulted in a Georgia Tech touchdown.

At 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Miami will have an opportunity to sort out these issues this Saturday, Nov. 13 at 3:30 p.m., when the Canes take on cross-state rival Florida State.