Compelling Q&A with Miami expert, Part II

HOW DOES the 2015 vintage of the Hurricanes compare to some of the Miami teams of old? We asked reporter Walter Villa, who has been tracking Miami since the 1970s and who has watched every snap this season, that question. And his answer didn't disappoint.

COUGFANcom: How does this Miami team compare to some of the Miami teams of old who regularly put up double-digit win seasons?

Villa: Get serious. It doesn’t.

This Miami team got blown out by Clemson 58-0 and by North Carolina 59-21.

This Miami team blew a huge lead to a sub-par Nebraska team only to survive 36-33 and needed a miracle lateral-laden kick return to beat Duke.

Two of Miami’s wins pretty much shouldn’t even count because they were against lesser competition – FAMU and Florida Atlantic.

Miami also beat Georgia Tech, which went 1-7 in the ACC this season, Virginia (4-8 overall) and Virginia Tech (6-6).

The closest thing to an impressive win for Miami this year was a 29-24 win at Pitt, which is 8-4.

Sure, Miami has some individual stars. But the 2015 team bears no resemblance to the teams that made The U famous.

COUGFANcom: What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the Miami offense?

Villa: The biggest strength on offense is QB Brad Kaaya and his diversity of targets. It’s foolish to overload on any one player because Kaaya spreads the ball around.

The weakness is the offensive line, which has talented players but is still likely a year away from reaching its potential. Because of Miami’s blocking issues, the Canes ranked 13th in the ACC in rushing, putting too much stress on Kaaya’s right arm -- especially on third down.

COUGFANcom: How about the Miami defense?

Villa: The strength of the defense is that Miami forced 24 turnovers and led the ACC with a plus-13 turnover margin. The weakness of the defense was coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, who is a remnant of the failed (and fired) Al Golden regime.

D’Onofrio’s defenses have habitually played too passively – often playing 10 yards off receivers. The pass rush, similarly, has not been aggressive and whatever talent Miami has on defense has been wasted. In addition, Miami has long been searching for a dominant defensive tackle, and the lack of that player has corrupted the run defense. 

COUGFANcom: There’s been some chatter that Miami fans have been slow to buy Sun Bowl tickets. What’s your take on the interest level from the Miami fan base on the Sun Bowl.

Villa: Miami fans are not like most of the rest of college football. This is a big-event city. Fans respond to championship teams, and the 'Canes’ 2015 season has been another in a long line of disappointments, stretching back for over a decade.

The 'Canes haven’t been great since Dorsey left in 2002, and the Sun Bowl or any other “mid major” bowl is not nearly enough to excite 'Canes fans. Most Miami fans will watch on TV – only the relatively few diehards will make the trip.

COUGFANcom: It was reported yesterday Mark Richt has changed his mind and won't attend the Sun Bowl -- do you see Richt's presence at practice this week, and being around the program as much as he has in the lead up to the bowl game, helping or hurting Miami's chances of winning on Dec. 26.

Villa: Richt’s presence can’t hurt, but I doubt it will really help. Players are already motivated for their own careers and for a variety of additional reasons. This “extra motivation” stuff is usually a media creation.

Games are won primarily by the team with the most talented players. Coaching, systems and luck are all factors that can play a role when the talent is fairly even.

COUGFANcom: What are three things the average WSU fan might now know about this Miami team.

Villa: One, they have lost five straight bowl games. 

The last bowl game Miami won wasn’t very impressive – they beat Nevada 21-20 in something called the MPC Computers Bowl on Dec. 31, 2006.

2. This is an undisciplined team.

Take the North Carolina loss for example – Miami was penalized 12 times for 103 yards. Miami players, even though they don’t have much to brag about any more, love to celebrate and are usually hit with a couple of unsportsmanlike penalty calls per game.

3. There is hope for the future.

The hiring of Richt was hailed by almost everyone who follows the team as a great move. That will have no bearing on the Sun Bowl, but it should bode well for Miami’s future.

COUGFANcom: The current Miami coaches don’t know where they stand after Dec. 26 and most often a new coach coming in will keep one assistant at most from the former staff. Do you see that having any impact on the game?

Villa: I don’t think that will have any effect.

At least two coaches on the current staff have been quoted as saying they would love to stick around on the 2016 staff. Offensive coordinator James Coley said he doesn’t have to call the plays to want to stay. And interim head coach Larry Scott said he could teach players at whatever position is needed.

Just like all players want to play well because what they do goes on tape and scouts are watching, the same is true with coaches.
Richt will be watching, and other coaches at other schools will be tracking the game as well. Those coaches at other schools know that all or most of these coaches figure to be available after the Sun Bowl.

One positive from the perspective of the current staff is this: Since Al Golden was fired, the Hurricanes have gone 4-1. The schedule hasn’t been overly taxing – that’s true – but the fact is that this staff has stayed together and remained professional.

Still, though, you have to figure that Mike Leach will have an advantage when matching wits against an interim coach with much less experience calling the shots.

COUGFANcom: What’s your prediction?

Villa: Washington State 38, Miami 31

If you missed Part I, CLICK HERE

About the Author: Villa covers the Hurricanes for Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger. He filed weekly reports with during Peyton Bender's senior season in Fort Lauderdale in 2013.  Based in Miami, Villa is a free-lance writer who has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times,, Baseball America, Sports and many more. He also served as an assistant sports editor at The Miami Herald for 15 years.

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