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Struggling Miami badly needs its luck to change

... after this week.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Since Miami’s place in the national conversation began to erode after Butch Davis left town, people have been searching constantly for signs that the Hurricanes might be close to reclaiming that elite status. The Canes usually recruit pretty well no matter what, so it can be easy to talk yourself into them.

This preseason, for instance, Miami was picked to win the Coastal by 28 voters. (Only one brave soul picked Pitt.) The Hurricanes were coming off an 8-3 season, after all, and returned quarterback D’Eriq King. It seemed plausible they might take a big step forward.

Instead, the Hurricanes have been plagued by misfortune on the way to a 2-4 start: King suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the team’s third game, and the Canes have dropped heartbreakers in the waning seconds to both Virginia and North Carolina. They lost leading rusher Cam’Ron Harris to a season-ending knee injury against UNC.

So the Canes are not exactly in the greatest headspace going into this weekend, and as their impatient fans become more frustrated with Manny Diaz, the program feels all the more enigmatic. The Canes’ overall talent level is good, but they have a tendency to seem broken beyond just the absence of a quarterback. Maybe there is a rally around the corner, or maybe it’s a team that can be crushed mentally if the losing streak continues another couple of games.

If they’re going to start to turn things around, they will need much more from freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who in two league games is completing 47.3% of his passes for an average of 6.3 yards per attempt. He has two touchdown passes against three interceptions, and mind you, these were not games against stout defenses.

(All the stranger that he would say what he did this week, but hey, maybe he can talk himself into playing better. It’s at least worth trying.)

Van Dyke is obviously in a difficult spot, and in his defense, there wasn’t much evidence that Miami’s offense was going to be good even with D’Eriq King. The Canes have yet to crack 5.4 yards per play in five tries against FBS opponents. (The nearly 740 yards (!) of offense they piled up against Central Connecticut State are skewing their overall numbers.)

The ground support has been inconsistent, and Miami is averaging a modest 3.7 yards per carry against FBS opponents. Miami’s season-average, by the way, is 4.4 YPC, thanks to 322 yards at 7.1 per carry against CCSU. See what I mean about skew? Also maybe Central Connecticut State should look for a new hobby.

The Canes lost a veteran starting offensive lineman to injury earlier this year, and now with Harris down, they’ll be starting a second-year freshman at running back. Jaylan Knighton acquitted himself well in relief against the Heels but has a little over 80 carries in his career. Talented, though, of course. Former four-star kid. Just like Van Dyke.

If they can get the running game going early on, maybe that opens up some more easy wins for Van Dyke through the air—and he’s got a pretty good receiving corps to work with. There’s no question that the offense badly needs to get off to a quick start.

The less pressure they have to put on their defense, the better. Which is not to say the Hurricanes’ defense has been bad. They’ve been solid in league play, actually, limiting UVA to 5.7 YPP and UNC to 5.2 YPP. They also held App State to 4.5 YPP back in September.

But they can also be a little sloppy, and they’ve managed only five takeaways in six games, which is not at all helpful. They really need to start making a few breaks for themselves, because positive breaks have been few and far in between and it shows in this team’s record.

There are a lot of negative indicators that Miami needs to flip in a hurry, and maybe the Canes have the talent to do it, it’s anybody’s guess what actually happens from here on.