Miami run defense faces another test


The same ol' question is asked of Miami coach Al Golden every week.

So, ahem, coach: about your defense ...

This week is no exception, of course, not with No. 14 Florida State coming to town. The mismatch on paper appears obvious: Miami has one of the worst run defenses in the country; Florida State has one of the best run offenses in the country.

Miami has only held one opponent under 200 yards rushing all season. That was Boston College in the opener, a team that ranks as one of the worst rushing offenses in the nation. Overall, the Hurricanes rank No. 118 in the nation, giving up an average of 253.7 yards per game on the ground.

The Hurricanes have been looking for solutions every week. They have made more depth chart changes going into this week, moving middle linebacker Denzel Perryman to the outside, while Jimmy Gaines moves to the middle. Miami has started different defensive lineups in every game this season, a clear illustration of defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio trying to find the right combination to shore up his group.

He reasoned the move for Perryman was just to give Miami more speed on the perimeter, particularly since so many teams play four- and five-receiver sets these days. Miami is sure to see that out of Florida State, which likes to spread the ball as much as it likes to run the ball.

What helps is having Perryman and Gaines healthy again. That has allowed the Hurricanes to be much more productive at the linebacker position in recent weeks. But more work must be done.

"We are light years from where we want to be," Golden said. "We are making progress. ... But we are a long way away from being the type of team that gets the number of sacks that we are looking for and gets the takeaways that we are looking for. But I am pleased with their progress and obviously we are playing 20 freshmen or sophomores over there so I am encouraged they are growing and developing."

Youth definitely plays a role, and so do injuries. But Golden makes a good point. Miami has not been effective at getting into the backfield. If you take away the seven sacks the Hurricanes have made, they only have 27 tackles for loss in seven games. That means Miami is averaging less than four tackles behind the line. Last year, Miami had 73 total tackles for loss, with 23 sacks.

There were some signs of improvement last week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels only scored 18 points and Miami had its chances to win in the second half. That was far better than the week before, a 41-3 blowout to Notre Dame. Florida State has various offensive playmakers Miami will have to slow down, starting with running back Chris Thompson. The Seminoles are averaging 233 yards rushing and have scored 23 touchdowns on the ground -- both No. 2 in the ACC behind Georgia Tech.

D'Onofrio hopes a renewed dedication during practice will help his defense continue to grow.

"You play how you practice,” D’Onofrio told reporters in Miami this week. "There’s no magic pill. You just can’t come up there and be a playmaker on game day without putting the money in the bank. That’s in the film room and that’s on their own and that’s where we’re at. I think our guys are starting to realize that."