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Miami has to get tougher, but Mark Richt's offense should be an instant boost

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The Hurricanes' QB and the former Georgia coach are an excellent match. Now we'll have to see how much the running game can improve.

Joe Skipper/Getty Images

There was a time when Miami's offense was at the forefront of innovation. When Howard Schnellenberger began transforming the private school into a major power in 1979, he installed a "pro-style" passing attack that was not yet the norm in college football. Ten years later, the Hurricanes took another step forward with Dennis Erickson's single-back offense.

But since then, the school has been married to pro-style systems. It adhered to that tradition when replacing Al Golden with Mark Richt.

The fact that they had the opportunity to bring aboard such a coach was somewhat surprising after his Dawgs finished 9-3. It only took one year of poor offensive performance for Richt to get the axe, and that year happened to include the Dawgs losing their best player, Nick Chubb, as they were adjusting to their first year without longtime OC Mike Bobo.

The trends before Richt was fired were remarkably positive, as UGA sought that elusive combination of fielding an elite defense and elite offense in the same year.

Year Record Offensive S&P+ Defensive S&P+
2011 10-4 39th 4th
2012 12-2 6th 28th
2013 8-5 8th 36th
2014 10-3 6th 17th
2015 9-3 71st 11th

Georgia has consistently been top 10 in either offense or defense, but not at either pinnacle at the same time. The drop off with new OC Brian Schottenheimer was so considerable, it shattered trust in Richt. (He's said he plans to call plays himself at Miami, which he did for roughly the first half of his time at Georgia, and be more involved with quarterbacks.)

What really brought down the offense was not necessarily the system or the lack of Chubb, as Georgia had other good backs, but QB play. While Greyson Lambert's numbers looked solid (7.65 yards per attempt, 12-2 TD-INT ratio) he only threw for 1,959 yards and couldn't do enough damage to stop teams from loading the box to stop the run while playing man coverage on the outside.

At his new digs, Richt is inheriting an offense that was better than his last (45th in offensive S&P+) thanks almost entirely to QB Brad Kaaya.

Although lead runner Joseph Yearby ran for 1,002 yards, Miami ranked 116th in rushing S&P+ in 2015, but 12th in passing. In order to get the offense at the level of his better Georgia units, Richt is going to need to follow a two-step process while the Canes recruit and develop.

Step 1: Teach Kaaya the new passing system

Although Richt's offenses have featured some successful QBs, they've generally been more run-centric. That's not going to work with what Miami's fielded, and he's going to have to lean on Kaaya while establishing a culture.

Both Miami and Georgia have integrated spread principles and run/pass options into pro-style systems. But the aim is to make use of a good QB to punish defenses that load the box to stop the run. They don't help teams that just can't block.

Last year, Georgia couldn't make great use of RPOs because its passing game wasn't reliable. So in an instance like you see below, when Tennessee was loading the box, Georgia couldn't punish:

Miami also used RPOs and spread sets to help its running game. Kaaya made effective reads and throws, but they didn't make the run work.

Offenses usually use RPOs to accomplish one of two aims. They can get favorable numbers to run, or they can force the defense to play man coverage and honest fronts against the run. Against Florida State, Miami got man coverage and honest fronts, but was unable to make anything of them:

Forcing man coverage does help the pass, though. And that's where the Canes have to make their living in 2016. Fortunately, Richt is known for his passing concepts that work independently of the run.

For instance, there's his take on the shallow cross route, which he uses to set up the best pass in football, the curl/flat combo.

Richt shallow cross

Richt uses the threat of the outside receiver (X) running at a sprint across the middle of the field to open the passing window for the curl route (Y), and barring that, the flat route (H). Most coaches have some use for the shallow crossing route, but not all combine it with the equally devastating curl-flat combo.

Kaaya has a strong and accurate enough arm to nail the curl route, the second read in this progression. The sole returning starting receiver for Miami, Stacy Coley, is the kind of athlete who could catch the ball on the run in the crossing route or get open and pick up yards after catch in the curl.

Last year, Georgia made good use of a three-vertical combination that showed off Lambert's strong arm and which would be a good fit for Kaaya.

Richt 3-verts

WIth a vertical route from the slot (Y) to occupy the safety (F) and a wheel route on the outside (Z) to rub man coverage, that outside receiver (X) can find space to settle in. Unlike four verticals or ball-control concepts like shallow cross, this would make use of seven-man blocking to ensure the QB had time to throw down the field. With Miami's cast of tight ends, who can all run and catch, it should be easy for Richt to present Kaaya with deep targets.

Step 2: Install a physical, two-back running game

Diverse passing should buy RIcht time for the much more difficult task, building a physical run game. While Richt has always used dropback passing that isn't tied to the run through extensive play action or RPOs, his system is about running the ball.

At Georgia, this was often accomplished through a two-back run game (using a fullback) and zone runs with a lead blocker, in which backs would find opportunities after the snap. For instance:

It's a standard inside-zone run to the weakside, with the fullback looking to take out a linebacker in the hole. Here the fullback sees the flow coming and works to the cutback lane, then picks off the strong safety trying to fill it. Sony Michel follows him, and the result is a 30-yard gain against an eight-man front despite only seven blockers.

Lead zone cutback

The keys here are the flexibility of the design and the misdirection that sets up the middle linebacker (M) to run out of the play. While the two backs aim for the playside (to the right, in this example), the offensive linemen work their way to the linebackers after controlling the line with double teams. The fullback is looking to find a good lane to lead through before picking off the most dangerous available defender. They are eager for the play to become a cutback to the other side, but the blockers have rules to ensure positive gains regardless of what happens after the snap.

Miami has fullbacks, including Auburn transfer Gage Batten, but preferred single-back sets under Golden and would likely use a second tight end instead of a fullback for now. It's most likely Richt also emphasizes single-back sets, rather than forcing a running game that isn't currently worth supporting by taking receivers off the field.

In 2016, Miami will have to create space for the run with RPOs and some spread sets. That will make use of Kaaya's ability to make good reads and throw with accuracy and velocity. Meanwhile, Miami has to get the OL to the level of the better Georgia lines of the last decade and build some depth at fullback.

When Richt gets this offense rolling, only one thing will remain in the way of Miami getting back on track to taking advantage of one of the best pools of talent in the country: building the kind of defense that used to define the program. So let's see if Miami's the place where Richt can eventually have a top offense and defense at the same time.