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The Miami Hurricanes are better off under Mark Richt, but for now they look the same

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Improved performance doesn't always come with improved results. Them's the sports.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

If you're only looking superficially, it may not seem like anything has changed at Miami since the school replaced Al Golden with Mark Richt. The Hurricanes finished 2015 at 8-5 and they're 6-4 to this point in 2016. In reality, Richt has helped Miami improve in a number of ways--most generally, and perhaps most importantly, on the defensive side of the ball, where the 'Canes have allowed only 19.3 points per game, down from 28.2 in 2015.

Actually I'm at a loss for how little has changed for Miami in terms of results considering how much different its performance has been. Here's one example: in 2015, the Hurricanes scored 41 touchdowns and allowed 43. And again, they finished 8-5 (8-4 excluding the bowl game). In 2016, they have score 44 touchdowns and allowed 22.

Fortunes in close games usually are instructive in cases like this. Miami went 4-2 in games decided by one possession last season; this year the 'Canes are 0-3 in such games. Golden's last team in Coral Gables finished +11 in turnover margin, which ranked ninth nationally. Richt's team is also on the plus side (+6), but not quite to that degree.

The short of it is the 2015 Hurricanes overachieved relative to performance, while the current edition looks like an underachiever.

Miami S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Offense 45 5.9 (48) 3.7 (112) 8.0 (32)
2016 Offense 43 6.4 (28) 4.7 (54) 8.2 (21)

Unsurprisingly, the Miami defense has been pretty good down-to-down behind the guidance of veteran quarterback Brad Kaaya--the Hurricanes are averaging 5.9 yards per play in ACC games, which ranks them sixth out of 14 teams. (NC State is eighth.)

But the advanced statistics aren't impressed by Miami's raw improvement, probably because the Hurricanes lost three straight games to good teams October, scoring no more than 19 points in any of the three. The Hurricanes' ground game has had a tendency to abandon them against quality opponents (and Notre Dame): they managed 62 on the ground against FSU, 42 against Virginia Tech, and 18 against the Irish.

In ACC games, the 'Canes are averaging a modest 3.8 yards per carry, though that's nearly a yard better than they were last year, mirroring the improvement in overall results.

NC State's defense is allowing 3.0 yards per carry on the season, 3.04 YPC in ACC games. The Wolfpack should feel confident that it can bottle up Miami's ground attack, even if it is notably better than it was last season.

Which might leave a lot to Brad Kaaya--and that can work, dude is certainly talented, but he has felt the strain a bit when Miami hasn't been able to run the ball.

Miami S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Defense 54 5.8 (86) 5.3 (115) 6.4 (26)
2016 Defense 20 4.8 (16) 3.5 (23) 6.5 (28)

The new coaching staff's best work has come here, as the 'Canes have gone from middling to good in the span of one offseason. The Hurricanes are tied for No. 1 in the country with 90 tackles for loss--already that's 24 more TFLs than they had in 13 games last year.

On running plays, they rank fourth in stuff rate, and on passing downs, they're 27th in sack rate. Miami's defensive line has been one of the most disruptive units in the country. Behind them, there is a significant drop, however, which partly explains why Miami still can appear less than the sum of its parts, even after another coaching change.

While the DL ranks third in havoc rate, the linebackers rank 82nd and the defensive backs rank 86th. If MIami finds itself in the right matchups and the right situations within a game, they can really thrive. But the rest of the time there's also a fair bit that can go wrong.