Ok, well that sucked. If you haven't heard by now, I hate to be the bearer of the bad news that Miami no longer controls its destiny in the Coastal Division after its 42-24 loss to Virginia Tech last week. Won't get into why it happened, how it happened, how bad the defense was because that's been analyzed to death. It is time to look forward, because this team still has something to play for. They have an opponent in front of them that should not be taken lightly, although their name is not one that usually strikes fear into the hearts of opponents (unless we are talking basketball or lacrosse). This week, we are going to take a look at a match-up between Duke's Sophomore Quarterback, Anthony Boone, and the Miami pass rush.
Season to Date
For the Canes, the defense started out oh so well, only to see it go oh so wrong the last few weeks. That stellar defensive performance against the Gators seems like a lifetime ago (and seems less significant by the week). The pass rush was so active and improved the first few weeks of the season, matching their 2012 sack totals by the Georgia Tech game. Now, the pass rush has been in witness protection after Jameis Winston and Logan Thomas had all day to throw and picked apart the Miami defense. Boone's season has been almost the exact opposite. He was named the starter in camp, only to suffer a collarbone injury in Duke's second game of the season against Memphis. The team struggled without Boone in the lineup, losing its next 2 games against Georgia Tech and Pitt. Since Boone has returned, Duke has not lost. In fact, Duke is undefeated when Boone plays this season (let that sink in).
Boone isn't exactly Thomas or Winston in terms of his size. He is (listed at) 6'0, but has plenty of bulk at 230 pounds. His diminutive height should be an advantage for a Miami defense with NFL-sized lineman in the front seven, but Boone has the athleticism to get outside the pocket, away from the trees in the middle, and buy himself some time and throwing lanes. For the Canes, it will be up to the guys on the D-Line to be big and fluster Boone. Guys like Olsen Pierre (6'5), Anthony Chickillo (6'4) and Justin Renfrow (6'6) will have to use their size to their advantage. When they don't get to the passer (and that has been a probelem the past few weeks) they will need to put their hands up and make it difficult for Boone to see his receivers and get an occasional knock-down at the line of scrimmage.
Pass Rushing Skills vs. Decision Making
Although Duke has played well with Boone in the lineup, he isn't exactly setting the world on fire with his numbers, nor has he been taking care of the ball in recent weeks. He has thrown SEVEN interceptions the past two weeks against Virginia Tech and NC State. Duke was still able to pull out a win in those games, but Miami has the offense to take advantage of those mistakes. That is why it is crucial to force Boone into making bad decisions, and that job falls to the OLB/DE in this 3-4 scheme. Shayon Green will get the call on first and second down, but the game changing plays will come on third downs. This is where Miami's pass rushing specialists, Tyriq McCord and Quan Muhammad, will have to get to the passer. Getting a sack is not required (although preferred) but they must get to Boone early and make him get rid of the ball before he wants to. It will not only be important to get to Boone, but because he is known to escape the pocket it will also be important to keep containment on him, which could come down to scheme and planning (I know that gives some Canes fans headaches just thinking about that). McCord and Muhammad have struggled in recent weeks, and their struggles up front have had a trickle-down effect to the rest of the defense. No, they aren't the ones missing tackles in the secondary, but there might not be a need for those plays if the Quarterback is scrambling for his life.
It's one of the biggest clichés in sports nowadays, but I always say that clichés are clichés for a reason: rushing the passer is crucial for success on defense. Boone, while he is the leader of the Duke offense, is prone to make mistakes, but so was Logan Thomas going into last week. If you give someone all day to throw even the worst QBs can look like Heisman contenders. It comes down to a push from all the guys in the front seven. If they can make Boone uncomfortable while keeping him contained then the secondary can do what they do best and ball hawk (we have all seen that tackling would not be considered a strong point for that unit). I mentioned a few key names above, but it will really have to be a team effort in the front seven in order to accomplish that. They have not played well in recent weeks, so this game will go a long way in seeing how far this team has come since last year. I am cautiously optimistic that they can have a bounce back game and cause some pressure, fingers crossed.