Miami's revamped defense looking to stifle Jackets

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

Miami enters Thursday night’s game against Georgia Tech with a new defensive coordinator, a new defensive scheme, and, according to safety Randy Phillips, a new attitude on defense.

After losing to the Yellow Jackets each of the past four years, they’re hoping now for a new result. Truth be told, it couldn’t get much worse than last year’s missed-tackle-laden performance in Atlanta. Georgia Tech rushed for 472 yards in a 41-23 win over Miami last year -- the second-most rushing yards ever allowed by the Hurricanes.

On Monday, Miami’s defense watched the game film of last year’s performance.

“They were kind of upset about it,” said Phillips, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and didn’t play in the game. “They feel very confident this time. It’s a lot better. It’s a different scheme, different guys on the field. Some of the guys played last year, but most of the guys are new, and it’s a different attitude for the defense. We have a lot to play for. We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country on both sides of the ball. We have a lot to prove. We haven’t beaten Georgia Tech in four years. We’re just going to go out there and play aggressive and get a lot of takeaways.”

The defense will no doubt be key, including players like Phillips in the secondary. He said a lot of the missed tackles last year came from the safeties. After just two games, Georgia Tech leads the ACC with 318 rushing yards per game, but Miami’s defense limited Florida State to 110 yards on the ground. The Noles’ running game so far hasn’t quite lived up to its preseason billing, though, and this might provide a more realistic gauge as to just how much the defense has improved under first-year coordinator John Lovett.

One of their main priorities in this game will be to slow Georgia Tech B-back Jonathan Dwyer, who rushed for 128 yards on just 10 carries in the first half, including a 58-yard touchdown run.

“The biggest factor will be [Jonathan] Dwyer,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “The fullback must be accounted for on every single play. If he happens to get into the open field, we have to get him down for a 10 or 12 yard gain and then line up again. We cannot afford him to get long runs against us and that’s what makes their offense go.

“You can say the middle linebacker has the fullback, but that’s not always the case. It depends on what kind of triple option it is -- veer base, arc, midline or load-option. Depending on the scenario, certain guys have to be responsible for certain roles. Once you figure out what they’re trying to do and what we have to get done, then you have to respond to it.”

Like Clemson, Miami began preparing for Georgia Tech’s offense as early as the spring, and devoted a few practices this summer to it, as well. Shannon said there were a few things the team could glean from watching Thursday night’s game against Clemson, though “there will be a wrinkle here and there.”

Clemson held Georgia Tech to seven three-and-outs in a 30-27 loss to the Jackets on Thursday night, a 27 percent completion percentage -- the best in 11 years at Clemson -- and went 54 minutes without allowing a touchdown. The Tigers held Dwyer to 66 yards, and executed and tackled better as the game went on.

What’s their secret?

“You have to have a simple plan,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “There’s only so much you can do against that. You can’t dial up a bunch of different calls and things like that. The biggest thing you have to do is be disciplined and execute and win the matchups, and I think our guys did a great job of that. I don’t know if they’ll ever go seven three-and-outs again all season. It will be interesting to try it.”

And Miami is ready to give it its best shot.