Miami Hurricanes football: Signs of a ‘spectacular’ defense early in 2016

Michael Pinckney hauls down FAU quarterback Jason Driskel for his first career sack. (Getty Images)

Michael Pinckney hauls down FAU quarterback Jason Driskel for his first career sack. (Getty Images)

[Richt likes defense vs. FAU; not pass game, penalties]

[Kaaya on offense: 2-0 is only stat I care about]

[Five things we learned from Miami 38, FAU 10]

[Porter’s AP ballot after Week 2]

Miami hasn’t hit the arduous part of its schedule yet. We don’t know how good its defense truly is.

But there’s a lot to like so far, both statistically and visually.

First, the numbers:

Though two games, Miami leads the country in tackles for losses (28) and is tied with Pittsburgh atop the leader board in sacks (10). Both of those totals are close to last season’s 13-game figures of 66 and 26.

Miami hasn’t ranked in the top 40 nationally in either category since 2010, when it led the nation in tackles for loss and was eighth in sacks.

The Hurricanes are second nationally in yards per play allowed (2.94), tied for 16th in interceptions (3) and rank 17th in opponent third-down success (8-for-36, or 22.2 percent).

But those aren’t the best signs. It’s these: despite personnel losses brought on by dismissals, suspensions and injuries, they’re playing hard, flying to the ball and tackling soundly. The competition will get tougher, sure. But that is what a winning defense does.

“We just don’t talk about it,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Whoever we have that week just knows there’s a standard we’re all trying to live up to. … We don’t believe in making excuses.”

None needed after a 38-10 win in which they allowed Florida Atlantic 47 yards on the ground (214 total), registered 13 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

The Hurricanes gave up 4.8 yards per play on first downs (3.0 on all downs), allowed 4-for-20 chances on third down and didn’t let FAU in the red zone all night. The only bust was a 38-yard rushing touchdown on which Michael Jackson and Rayshawn Jenkins missed tackles. Other than that, a supposedly ailing unit overwhelmed FAU.

End Demetrius Jackson has four sacks in two starts in place of the dismissed Al-Quadin Muhammad. With tackles Anthony Moten and Courtel Jenkins ailing, RJ McIntosh has been an interior force. Corners Sheldrick Redwine (“we never looked at him as not-a-starter,” Diaz said) and Jackson (his lock-down coverage freed up Jenkins to make an interception) did a solid job in place of Adrian Colbert.  All those players are sophomores substituting for upperclassmen.

“All those guys are rallying,” quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “Coach Diaz is doing a hell of a job.”

Say the same about the freshman linebackers, Shaq Quarterman (“steady as a rock,” Diaz said), Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud (splitting time at Sam with safety Jaquan Johnson; imagine if Jermaine Grace was there to help?).

“You could talk about those linebackers all day,” coach Mark Richt said. “How often do you have three true freshmen just show up and start playing good ball for you like that?”

Answer: Not often. No team in the country is starting more true freshmen on defense — or more in total — than Miami.

“It’s not easy, but we prepare,” said Pinckney, who had nine tackles (1.5 for loss) against FAU and leads Miami with 12. “If you know what you’re doing out there, it’s not too complicated.”

Remember Diaz’ defenses at Texas, which were senior-heavy in 2011 and couldn’t successfully rebuild in 2012 and 2013? It doesn’t look like that will happen here. Miami is ultra-young. Every single player in the front seven returns next year. The starting tackles are sophomores; the starting linebackers are freshmen. The back four will graduate two safeties and two corners but Johnson looks like a special player, and Redwine and Jackson will get plenty of run this year.

It’s fair to wonder whether those players will hit a wall, whether they’ll struggle when the opponents get tougher,  whether their first foray into heavy action will wear them down. At this point in the season, the effort is unquestionable, and that’s what Diaz wants above all else.

Other things to like: Tackle Gerald Willis had a sack in his UM debut, and linebacker Darrion Owens returned to action one year after blowing out his knee against FAU. “That, to me, is the greatest thing from this game,” Diaz said. Also, the injuries to Colbert and Jenkins aren’t considered serious; both had meniscus surgery and should return by October. Moten (shoulder) should be back to full speed soon.

We’ll find out more in the coming days on Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton and Elder, who appeared to be injured Saturday (Richt said after the game he didn’t think anyone had a long-term injury).

Since Richt is coaching the offense during games, he leaves the defense completely in Diaz’ hands. What he was able to see Saturday, he liked.

“I thought our defense played spectacular,” he said. “Very obvious how great they played. They would not let it get interesting at all.”

Reader Comments 0

0 comments