When college football fans peruse the national statistics, they will find Miami RedHawks quarterback Andrew Hendrix ranked seventh in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense. What they won’t find are the names of some important people who helped Hendrix post his numbers.
Sure, there are talented receivers such as David Frazier, who ranks ninth nationally in receiving yards and 15th in receiving yards per game.
Dig a little deeper yet, however, and there is the Miami offensive line.
“I’ve worked for coach Martin before, and it all starts up front. That’s how important this process is,” co-offensive coordinator and O-line coach George Barnett said this week. “That’s why we can’t rest. We can’t rest a single day. We can’t rest a single (practice) period. We’ve got to continue to get better every single minute.”
Considering the fact that Miami’s passing game all but disappeared in 2013, its re-emergence this season is remarkable. Some of that credit goes to the offensive line.
“As soon as we got in, we took inventory of our scholarship players – watched some film and things like that and got to know our kids,” Barnett said.
Among the areas in need of improvement following the winless 2013 campaign was strength and conditioning. That applied across the board, but improvement was even more critical for those along the front lines.
“It was addressed as soon as we got here in the winter. But it’s just like everything else. That’s not going to be solved overnight,” Barnett said.
”That’s just an every day, every week process for those kids. There’s been a lot of improvement since winter, but right now we’re in an in-season phase. Then it’s going to be another off-season to build even more.”
He added, “The strength and conditioning aspect was certainly a factor that we are still trying to battle through. … We’re not the biggest or strongest group on our schedule by a long shot. So the body position (and) the fundamentals have to be at a premium.
Another issue was the new system.
“Their offense (last year) was quite a bit different. They were running a little bit of triple option and things like that. It was different. It was not a culture shock by any means, but certainly (there was) a different set of fundamentals at play,” Barnett said.
“When you are talking about a five-step pass game … last year they didn’t do a lot of that. That’s probably been the biggest challenge we’ve had – just being in balance and seeing our targets and understanding who’s who and where they are in a five-man protection.”
Some game days have gone better than others. Hendrix was sacked nine times several weeks ago against Akron, the MAC’s top defense. Eastern Kentucky was one of several teams to successfully pressure MU with blitz packages.
“We’ve had some breakdowns, for sure, in protections, and that is something that every day we are trying to get better at,” Barnett said. “As far as what people are doing (to us), it’s not all the same, but there is not much variation. It’s a lot of the same stuff. There are some personnel (issues). We got mismatched a little bit upfront a couple times against Akron, and we had to cover for a player here or two. That’s part of the game right now. We are working through that.”
Whether it’s game to game or play to play, getting consistently good execution is the goal.
“That’s the fun part of the challenge – trying to get our kids equipped with the habits and the confidence to (succeed) every day and every play, and that’s the thing we have to see through,” Barnett said.
As much as coaching helps, there comes a point where it’s all on the players in the heat of battle. When things aren’t going so well, it helps to have a veteran like senior Zach Lewis around.
“You’re going to have bad plays in a game. It’s how you react. Some kids aren’t equipped to react to them very well (yet). Guys like Zach have been through the wars, and it’s a little easier for him,” Barnett said.
Likewise, his contributions are also there during the week, when all the groundwork is being laid.
“Zach Lewis has been a steady mainstay,” Barnett continued. “He’s been great. He’s a tough kid, smart. He comes to work every day. He’s got a great attitude – just very consistent. … Those are the type of kids you’ve got to have, especially when you are building an offensive line. … He’s going to pick up the kids that don’t have the habits (and) consistency.”
Given their personnel and situation, it quickly became apparent that Miami’s best chance to move the football in 2014 was through the air. The RedHawks had a talented quarterback who knew the system, as well as a strong receiving corps. Pass protection is critical, even as MU tries to develop its ground game.
“I would say we are 50-50 with what we work on during practice, but no doubt with our personnel that the pass game has to take priority during a lot of individual periods,” Barnett said. Still, “we have to keep developing the physicality and the run game, too. That’s been something that we are progressively trying to get better at. It’s the consistency of the run game that has to keep getting better.”
The use of Scott at running back seems to have given the ground game a little bit of a spark, and Hendrix is capable of running the ball on occasion, as well. He had 91 yards in the win over UMass and 72 yards last week at NIU. But the bulk of yardage comes from his arm.
As the line has helped him, Hendrix has helped the line, particularly with his “knowledge of defenses” and quick release.
“It’s a lineman’s best friend,” Barnett said of the release. “You can’t say enough about him and how he’s handled himself. He gets better every week. He’s the best benefactor that we can have, and the benefit from him is making us better.”
Developing the line, especially depth along the line, is both a short and long term process. It appears that help is on the way through recruiting, but Barnett knows improvements must continue every week of this season. Fortunately, those on hand are more than willing learners.
“They’ve been pretty focused on the task at hand,” Barnett said. “We have a ton of improvement to go yet. We are not in any way, shape or form in a scenario to be able to rest. (Even though) we’re in the back half of the season, in our mentality, it’s camp. It’s (about) getting better and grinding and working, and we’ll see where we are at at the end of the season.