RB Duke Johnson breaks away against North Carolina - Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
After previewing the Miami offense yesterday, Bart takes a look at his preseason assessment of Miami's defense, special teams, and coaching and gives insight on what to expect during Saturday's game from these units.
I'll do this a little bit differently than yesterday and post my preview from the preseason and then reassess the Hurricanes based on what they've done so far. Spoiler: Miami's defense so far is quite superior to what most outlets (including us) expected it to be and has perhaps been the major reason for the Hurricanes' hot start.
From the offseason:
The 2013 Hurricane defense does not bring with it a large number of high expectations from the fan base. The defense was, in a word, putrid in 2012 and ranked last in the ACC in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense. There were only four teams last year in the entire nation who gave up more yards per game than the Canes. On top of all this, the team only returns four starters which may in itself be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the player with the most previous exposure is linebacker Denzel Perryman who ranked second on the team in tackles a season ago with 64, including six tackles for a loss.
The defensive line should fare a lot better this year with the return of Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green on the outside, and Olsen Pierre with Curtis Porter on the inside. Green led the team in tackles last year with 67 and two tackles for loss, but did not record any sacks. More astonishingly, the Hurricanes only recorded 13 sacks total on the season and ranked 115th in the nation in sacks. For the defense to improve in the 2013 season, there will need to be an increase in pressure from the defensive front seven. The secondary returns virtually no starters, but a group of young players will look to rise to the task of replacing Brandon McGee who was drafted in the fifth round of the Draft. Sophomores Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush project to be starters at safety while sophomore Antonio Crawford, junior Ladarius Gunter and sophomore Tracy Howard look to contribute at corner.
Despite the widespread struggles of the 2012 defense, the Canes did force a large number of turnovers (22) including 11 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. If Miami is going to make a serious run at the ACC Championship this year, the defensive starters will need to stay healthy and young guys will have to step up to make a difference. The defensive line should get some pressure up front as most of the leading tacklers return, but the secondary may struggle to shut down strong aerial attacks unless they can quickly improve. The defense will continue to be a question all year for the 2013 team.
Duke Johnson will likely continue to return kicks as he did last year, amassing over 800 yards on the season. Johnson could possibly see some time at returning punts, but receiver Phillip Dorset, who returned 15 punts for 85 yards last year, may be the incumbent starter in that position. The kicking game will look to replace departedJake Wieclaw who went 19-25 on field goals last year, but went 0-4 from kicks over 40 yards. The task should fall to sophomore Matt Goudis who appeared a couple of times last year for a punt and two kickoffs. Goudis should enter the year as the starter at kicker while Pat O'Donnell, a senior who transferred in from Cincinnati, is likely to start at punter.
Johnson will be one of the most electric playmakers in the country this year. He is a threat every single time he touches the ball and teams would be crazy to kick it to him. Playing the Canes is a perfect example of when it is acceptable to get a touchback and put the opposing offense at the 25. The downside when facing Miami of course, is Johnson will be getting plenty of touches at tailback as well.
Al Golden is entering his third season at Miami and this looks to be the best of the bunch he has had so far. The 2012 team went 7-5 while technically "winning" the Coastal, but imposed a ban on themselves while NCAA investigations into the Shapiro scandal continue. Golden inherited a team marred by this scandal and will likely be at Coral Gables for the long haul as the team's recruiting has been steady despite the allegations. He previously coached at Temple and has a seven year overall record of 40-45. The Hurricanes return defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio who has been at Miami for both of the previous two years with Golden. As previously mentioned, the offense has new offensive coordinator James Coley overseeing the play calling.
Golden undoubtedly has a long leash with the administration and looks to have Miami back on the right tracks.
This game will be a difficult one for the Demon Deacons. As it is the eighth game of the season, it's hard to speculate exactly where Wake will be at this point, but the Deacs have really struggled on the road in recent years. While playing at Miami is not a tough task as far as fans, it is a long trip right before the next week's trip to Syracuse. This is a game which I would say most people have marked down as a loss on the schedule. While I would love nothing more than to go down to Florida and come back with a big win, it is difficult for me to imagine our defense coming up big and shutting down the Canes' potent offense. The one way I could see the game being close would be if Tanner, JRoc, and Camp put up a show and we matched the Canes touchdown for touchdown.
This Canes offense will be one of the most impressive in the nation in 2013 and barring injury both Morris and Johnson are serious Heisman contenders. If Miami has a solid season, they could be looking at an 8-4, 9-3, or even a 10-2 record, but it depends heavily upon how much the defense has improved from last year. It has been ten years since Miami last won double digit games and with a bowl trip, this could easily be the year that this statistic is reversed. I think most preseason rankings are correct in placing the Hurricanes in the ACC Championship game as the winner of the Coastal Division."
While we gave a lot of credit in the offseason to the Miami offense, which we covered yesterday, we were quite bearish on the Miami defense. The one thing I would point to is that we did say it could be a blessing in disguise that the defense doesn't bring back many players from the 2012 installment - and what a blessing it has been. Last year the Miami defense was in fact terrible, but this year the Hurricanes have absolutely brought it. Through six games Miami ranks 11th in scoring defense (17.2 ppg), 59th in rush defense, 14th in rush defense, 18th in total defense, and T11 in takeaways with 18. The team has already recorded five more sacks than they did over the entire 2012 season and is one of the top defensive units in the ACC.
Denzel Perryman again finds himself near the top of the team in tackles, but leads the team this year with 46 tackles, ten more than the second leading tackler Jimmy Gaines. The linebacking corps has really stepped up and put pressure in the backfield forcing opposing offenses to adapt or get stuffed. More times than not, the offense has failed to adapt to the quick and athletic Miami defense. This defense is going to be difficult to break down and as the game goes on Wake will have to make adjustments on offense to keep the Miami unit guessing.
I said before the year that I thought the Hurricanes would win the Coastal and nothing has made me come off of this prediction. I said I thought the Canes could win 10 games with a bowl bid and I stand by this, but they might not even need the bowl to make it to double digits for the first time in a decade. With the NCAA investigation finally resolved and the punishment handed out, Miami can turn their focus 100% to football and look to add to their impressive undefeated start. This is going to be an absolute dog fight for the Deacs and will require a massive effort to come out of South Beach with a victory. Tune in on Saturday to see if the Deacs can get it done and make it three ACC wins in a row.
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