Miami has now lost two of its top three running backs to injury, in addition to starting quarterback D’Eriq King, starting center Corey Gaynor and several others. Freshman Jaylan Knighton, who rushed for 92 yards in a loss to North Carolina last week, will now start at running back.
At 2-4, Miami heads into its game against NC State on Saturday approaching must-win territory to salvage a season that started with a preseason No. 14 ranking. In their past two games, the Hurricanes have dropped two heartbreakers on their final possession. Last week, Tyler Van Dyke threw an interception with Miami in field goal range in a 45-42 loss to North Carolina. In its ACC opener, Miami missed a field goal that would have won the game against Virginia on Sept. 30.
Those two losses have only ratcheted up the pressure on Diaz in his third season as head coach.
“We all want the performance to be better,” Diaz said. “If all the individual performers perform better, then the team’s performance is better. But the only way that can happen is we have to own the performance and sometimes that can make people sensitive and uncomfortable, and that is what it is because we’re all uncomfortable after we lose. When you’re a part of a team, you always have a mentality of how do we fix it? How do we get it better?
“Losing stinks, but the fact that our guys do fight, the fact that we came back from way behind, the fact that we had two drives in the last two games that if they ended differently, that put us 2-0 in the league, the players recognize that there’s something there. The players recognize there’s a fight in this team. We just have to play better.”
To that end, Diaz made changes to the depth chart released to the media Monday, most especially on defense, where there are younger players elevated to either starting spots or more prominent roles. That includes defensive ends Chantz Williams and Elijah Roberts and cornerbacks James Williams and Isaiah Dunson.
Miami struggled once again to tackle against North Carolina, a recurring theme throughout the season. Diaz described a few efforts as “gross attempts of tackling,” where players abandoned their fundamentals only to fail to make a play. He said he has told his players they don’t need to play “hero ball. No one needs to wear a cape, no one needs to justify expectations, no one needs to justify some sort of recruiting hype. Just fit in the framework of the team, and you’ll be amazed at how the plays will now come and the plays will be there to be made.
“We got a lot of guys that have a lot of pride that want to win,” Diaz said. “They’re not happy with the way the year’s gone. No one is happy with the way the year’s gone. So from the outside noise perspective, the outside noise can’t be any more upset than what’s going on in here. Here, we have a chance to do something about it, though.
“It’s hard to be out there on defense and lay my body on the line if I’m not sure suddenly the guy next to me is going to lay his on the line, and, and we have guys that have done that. If a guy had never done it, that’d be one thing. I’ve seen guys that that have thrown into tackles and done a great job of wrapping guys up, and that’s not happening. That can breed mistrust. If anything, the players who do want to do it the right way, they need to be out there with other guys that they know if I’m going to give everything for this, I need to know the other 10 guys will as well. That’s part of the fundamental for how a program grows.”