Miami didn't see much of this last year. (Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)
Twelve years have passed since the Miami Hurricanes put one of the best squads in college football history out on the field for 12 dominant games in 2001. The 2001 ‘Canes had a boatload of NFL-caliber talent on both sides of the ball, combining an explosive O with a dominant D to win every game by an average score of 43-9.
No one who watched that nasty-as-they-wanna-be bunch could have imagined that the “The U” would ever field a defense as bad as what Miami had a year ago. The ‘Canes D stunk in nearly every conceivable way:
Miami, Defensive S&P+ (2012)
*Source: Football Outsiders
For a coach who made his name teaching defense, Al Golden had to have been more steamed than the old Orange Bowl on a September Saturday.
Golden has more than enough offensive firepower to get his team back into position to contend for the ACC title. Hyped senior quarterback Stephen Morris returns to pilot the attack, and he’ll be protected by five returning starters on the offensive line. One of the best running backs in the country, sophomore Duke Johnson, will tote the rock. Morris also has this top three receiving targets from a year ago back as well.
But why buy into Miami making a defensive resurgence in 2013?
Primarily, as Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com mentioned on our ACC preview podcast, the ‘Canes actually do have a wealth of experience returning. Per Phil Steele, nearly 80 percent of their tackles from a year ago are back, the 23rd-most in the country.
The Hurricanes are bringing back eight starters on defense, four of whom are on track to be in the starting lineup for the third consecutive season. The linebacking corps did take a hit in the spring with the departures of Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson, two of the top four tacklers from last season. However, both the defensive line, led by junior end Anthony Chickillo, and secondary have veterans across the board.
Bear in mind that with so much upheaval in Miami’s program in the previous two seasons after the Nevin Shapiro scandal came to light, many of these players were forced into contributing roles before they were ready. With Golden now in his third year as Miami’s head coach, the trials of the last two years seem likely to begin paying dividends.
Is Miami suddenly going to develop an impenetrable D, the likes of which haven't been seen on South Beach since the glory days? Considering the strength of the Hurricanes' offense, they might not need it – at least, not if the goal is winning the ACC. Marginal improvement alone could make Miami pretty formidable.
Honestly, the key in 2013 isn't about defense as much as it is consistent offense. The defensive side of the ball will again be raw and depth-challenged, where the offense will be more polished than last year. It's going to take ball control, more first downs, more redzone touchdowns and less turnovers for these Hurricanes to prevail this year.
Miami's defense was embarrassingly bad last year, and started a slew of underclassmen to make up for eight starters who departed after 2011, including two defensive lineman who left early (Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon), making for five departees off a very depleted line, as well as the quarterback of the defense (linebacker Sean Spence) and a few other role players (a green secondary missed the experience of JoJo Nicolas).
The Canes struggled to replace those guys last year, but the upside is that a slew of freshmen got their feet wet in 2012 and guys like Deon Bush, Tracy Howard, Rayshawn Jenkins, Tyriq McCord, etc. will be better off this year as a result.
Miami did take a huge hit at linebacker, parting ways with some key players that could've helped this year. Eddie Johnson. Gabe Terry. Gionni Paul. An already thin position, the Canes will have to find a way to gain traction there quickly, which hasn't been the case as linebacker has been at troubled spot for a decade now.
It will be another year where Miami has to rely on some true freshman talent to get the job done, which is scary as Devante Bond, Artie Burns, Jamal Carter, Jermaine Grace, Ufomba Kamalu, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Walter Tucker aren't even on campus yet. (Expect guys like Bond, Burns, Carter, Grace and Muhammad to compete immediately - especially Muhammad.)
Offense will have to set the tone this year, while again bailing the defense out. Shouldn't be as bad as last year, but games where the offense went to sleep, or made mistakes, really hurt this team. (Think of the early points left on the field against Notre Dame or a lackluster offensive showing in an 18-14 loss to North Carolina.)
For Miami to again be a dominant force, it is all about defense, but that is still a year away, unfortunately. This season gives the Canes a lighter schedule than in recent years, and some good home games (Florida, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Virginia).
Season opens with Florida Atlantic, Florida, Savannah State, South Florida, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest and if the Canes can top the Gators early, a legit shot at 7-0 heading into the annual showdown against Florida State.
That really is another key this year; a solid start. Miami has stumbled early too often and a strong start will build momentum and confidence. Don't want to start all that, "we're playing for the ACC" chatter week two if UF gets the win.
Build momentum and this team will buy-in. Weren't as bad as they played last year, but that three-game stretch where they lost to Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida State in three straight weeks really took this team's swagger down a few pegs.
For 2013, it's about scoring points consistently, ball control and not putting a growing defense in a hole. By 2014, we'll see a Miami defense more comparable to what the world is used to. - allCanesBlog.com