Miami's offensive malaise deepens headed into Notre Dame

Miami has lost three straight, its offense in an unexpected tailspin headed into Notre Dame on Saturday.

As the playcaller and head coach, Mark Richt has fielded question after question about what exactly has gone wrong. He has put the blame on himself mostly, for failing to do a better job coaching up quarterback Brad Kaaya.

But systemic breakdowns across the offense have all contributed to the malaise. Kaaya already has been sacked 15 times in seven games -- including an unsightly eight last week against Virginia Tech. Last year, he was sacked 16 total times.

As the offensive line has struggled, the running game has broken down. But the passing game has struggled, too, because there is no one reliable receiver for Kaaya to turn to. Stacy Coley has made some nice plays, and freshman Ahmmon Richards has shown potential, but who is the receiver with the ability to be a game-changer with one huge play?

Given the returning talent, the slump is somewhat surprising. Kaaya went into the season as a potential first-round draft pick. Now, he looks lost in a new scheme that is focused on run-pass options. Yes, the offensive line has failed to protect him adequately, but he also has held on to the ball way too long at times, perhaps feeling indecisive about what to do and where to go with the ball.

The combined effect is an offense that has struggled against its Power 5 opponents. Miami has yet to go over 400 yards in those four games; during their three-game losing streak, the Hurricanes have failed to score 20 points. The last time Miami went three straight games without hitting 20 points was at the end of the 2011 season.

Even in a 35-21 win over Georgia Tech, the offense managed just three touchdowns.

“I’m responsible for everything,” Richt said this week. “I’m the head coach. All I can tell you is that when we meet, everybody has a piece of this pie. Everybody has a job to do. Everybody has a responsibility to do. It’s everybody. It starts with coaches, and it goes through the players as far as maybe an assignment here, or technique here, or whatever it may be. We see the issues, we coach them, we correct them, and we try to make sure they don’t happen in the future.”

Back in the spring, Richt warned that depth could pose a problem for his offensive line and receiver group. In the spring game, Miami only had a handful of scholarship receivers available. Injuries at both spots have taken a toll. Richards and Coley lead the team in receptions and receiving yards; the next three players are tight ends and a running back.

That could explain why Miami has been unable to open up the passing game. Kaaya is not throwing the ball as deep down the field as he did a season ago. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaaya threw 95 passes that went at least 15 yards last season. This year, he is on pace to throw 75 in the regular season.

His completion percentage on those longer passes also has dipped. Last year, he completed 40 percent of passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield. This year, that has dropped to 36 percent.

“Everybody gets these little stats,” Richt said. “Anybody throwing the ball past that yardage doesn't have a super-high percentage. The farther you throw it down the field, the lower percentage that you have, but the ones that you do hit are big plays.

“Has there been a couple that could have been right on the money? Yeah. Has there been a couple that maybe we could have pulled in and not dropped the ball? Yeah. So there's a little bit of everything. Protection-wise, if you're throwing the ball with a real clean pocket, it's a lot easier to sight up your receiver and put it on him. He's an excellent player, he's an excellent passer, and I'm not too worried about Brad.”

There is one more significant note from ESPN Stats & Information that also is relevant. Kaaya has seen a seven-point drop in his quarterback rating because he is performing worse in tight games. Last year, he completed 65 percent of his passes when the score margin was plus-or-minus a touchdown. This year, he is at 60 percent. The difference is in his touchdown to interception ratio.

Last year, he threw for 10 touchdowns in those situations with only two interceptions. This year, he has only five touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Something(s) clearly ailing the Miami offense. The question is how quickly Richt can get it fixed.