Manny Diaz's 1st Season at Miami Is a Thorough Mess

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2019

Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz in action during an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Manny Diaz entered a situation in which his new team was built to win immediately.

While the Hurricanes were never a national title contender, they reside in the ever-flailing ACC Coastal Division. Despite the offseason turnover that saw Mark Richt retire and a new offensive staff hired, Miami still had clear advantages with an experienced defense and the highest-recruited skill-position talent in the division.

First-year coaches sometimes get a pass while adjusting to a new situation, but Diaz had spent the last three seasons as Miami's defensive coordinator. He knew the personnel. He saw the weaknesses and addressed them as much as possible through the much-discussed transfer portaland he did an excellent job of that.

And, yet again, the Hurricanes aren't going to win the Coastal. Most remarkably, that's already clear in October.

The frustrating season has included four one-possession letdowns, starting with a wasted opportunity against Florida (24-20) and a road collapse at North Carolina (28-25). Then in October, Miami lost at home to Virginia Tech (42-35) and Georgia Tech (28-21).

As you'd expect from a head coach, Diaz has recently taken the "glass half-full" approach.

Christy Chirinos @ChristyChirinos

Diaz: "We're four plays away from being 7-0, but we're not. ... And regardless of what our record says, we have to win today. ... When we look at who we are at our core and how we're building as a program ... the foundation of what we're trying to be, those things have shown up."

More realistically, it's a confluence of errors that has guided Miami to a dismal 3-4 record and questions of whether "The U" will even qualify for a bowl.

In the season opener, Florida committed four turnovers, yet Miami only scored one touchdown in three red-zone trips. Trailing 24-20 late in the fourth quarter, the 'Canes put together a mind-numbing drive that covered four yards on 10 official snaps despite a couple of penalties bailing them out.

An earlier missed 27-yard field goal prevented Diaz from considering a game-winning attempt, which, in hindsight, doesn't appear would've gone well anyway.

Miami's special teams has been a nightmare this year.

Bubba Baxa missed that kick against Florida, then had a game-tying extra point blocked and left a potential 49-yard winner wide at UNC. He missed a go-ahead extra point against Virginia Tech and a go-ahead 27-yard field goal opposite Georgia Tech. Overall, Baxa has missed five field goals and two extra points this season.

Diaz also recently tried Turner Davidson, who missed a pair of short kicks (34 and 25) in the horrible loss to Georgia Tech.

Return man Jeff Thomas fumbled a punt that gifted the Gators a go-ahead score. For good measure, Georgia Tech's Pressley Harvin III threw a 41-yard touchdown on a fake punt.

That's a nauseating collection of mistakes.

With regard to the kicking game, it's a complementary issue. The Hurricanes are 125th nationally with a 67.7 red-zone scoring percentage, and their 55.9 red-zone touchdown rate is 85th. That's also a product of a putrid 29.6 third-down conversion clip, which ranks 125th in the country as well.

So, the offense does a horrible job extending drives and, if it does manage to sustain a possession, breaks down in scoring territory.

Responsibility for that inefficiency partly falls on quarterbacks Jarren Williams and N'Kosi Perry, but largely on coordinator Dan Enos.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Offensive coordinator Dan Enos of the Miami Hurricanes looks on against the Bethune Cookman Wildcats at Hard Rock Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Miami has the athletes to spread the field, yet the offense has regularly used tight formations. If the right personnel is there, that's fine. Williams is capable of running that pro-style attack, so the system itself is not a massive problem.

However, the Hurricanes' blocking unit is not capable of consistently winning in congested spaces. They've already ceded 60 tackles for loss (125th nationally) and 31 sacks (127th). Williams' shoulder injury forced Perry into the lineup, yet Enos only slowly adapted to a quarterback best suited for a spread.

In fairness, he's not been a disaster. The 'Canes are legitimately among the more explosive teams in the country; they've totaled 41 gains of 20-plus yards, which ranks 25th nationally. That's pretty good! Simultaneously, it shows the unstable all-or-nothing identity Miami has created for itself in 2019.

The "nothing" part has crushed Miami too often, leaving the defense in a situation where it must be absolutely perfect.

That, quite evidently, has not happened.

Rise of HaleTweeter @ADavidHaleJoint

In the last decade only 4 P5 teams have lost 5+ games in which they were tied or ahead in the 4Q (’16 ND, ’10 Iowa, ’15 Neb, ’15 AzSt). Miami has already done it 4 times this season. FSU has done it 3 times.

Overly criticizing the defense is foolish; it generated four takeaways and allowed 304 yards against Florida. Virginia Tech needed just 91 yards for three touchdowns after Miami turnovers. Georgia Tech's offense only scored once in regulation.

Yet UNC sliced through the defense for a rapid 17-3 lead. The 'Canes apparently had no idea how to cover Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene and then missed 29 tackles against Georgia Tech. All four losses include a winning touchdown from the opponent in either the fourth quarter or overtime.

Despite allowing only 4.7 yards per play (23rd) and 20.4 points per game (27th), the defense and first-year coordinator Blake Baker are not without blame.

Steve Kim @StevESPNKim

Miami literally is not good at any phase of football. Not a single one. Complete failure that lays at the feet of Manny Diaz. Put away the chains, the props and the hashtags. Focus on fundamentals... #canes

Looking at the entirety of the current performance, very little has gone right for Diaz in his head coaching debut. His promises of "The New Miami" are nothing but an offseason memory.

Yes, the team is regularly close. That's better than a weekly blowout, right? Sure, a totally botched review prevented the Hurricanes from extending the game against Georgia Tech. But to even be in that situation―in overtime, at home, against a 1-5 Georgia Tech team in the process of the most difficult offensive system overhaul possible―is atrocious.

Is there hope for a turnaround? In theory, yes.

Diaz's defensive background is excellent, and even an average offensive line would help the Hurricanes dramatically.

Relative to its Coastal competition, this is the most talented roster. Miami usually brings in top-25 recruiting classes and is headed for another in 2020. While the division may be improving, it won't hit an unreachable level for the 'Canes.

However, that's the same old storyone that hasn't changed for a decade. And in 2019, we're watching the same old Miami.


Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.