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Breaking down Mark D'Onofrio and the atrocious Miami defense

Miami's defense is bad. Really bad. But who is really at fault?

Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images

This defense is bad, in about every facet you could imagine. Rushing yards? Check. Lack of sacks? Check. 3rd down conversion rate? Check, check, check. This could go on all day, or until the next 90 yard drive consuming 10 minutes off the clock. Some of you might constitute this post as a defense of DC Mark D'Onofrio, and well, it will probably come off as such.

Like any other Hurricanes fan out there, I'd like D'Onofrio to dictate the terms to opposing offenses. Blitz more often and more creatively, put the DBs closer than 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. But the reality is this defense is simply too young across the board, and is going to get burned, one way or another. This is oversimplifying things, but what D'Onofrio seems to be doing is playing a version of a Prevent/Bend But Don't Break scheme, but for the entire game. This is presumably done in the hopes of turnovers and/or unforced mistakes by the offense having to drive the length of the field. It worked very well in the North Carolina State game, but this past Saturday against Notre Dame, obviously not so much. Not helping matters is the Miami offense is at its best playing a no-huddle, hurry up, pass heavy game plan. Specifically in the NC State game, the defense would force a turnover, and the offense would give the ball back without running even a minute off the clock. This defense is not good enough to continuously make stops. Fisch and his troops have to take advantage of every opportunity and turn them into points, or this team won't win many more games this year. But lets get back to the D.

The pitch forks, torches, tar and feathers have been in the fan base for awhile now, calling for D'Onofrio's head since the loss in Manhattan (not that Manhattan, Lt. Nolan). And granted, it has been extremely difficult watching the defense this year, knowing that unless the opposing offense beat themselves or get too cute with their play-calling, points are being put on the board. Even the over thinking Brian Kelly figured this out, and stopped trying to be fancy pretty early in the game. He simply ran the ball all the way down the field, each and every drive, to the tune of 376 rushing yards, a whopping 7.4 yards per carry, and 39 minutes time of possession advantage. I was there in Chicago, it was surreal. Miami was down four touchdowns most of the 2nd half, and it didn't it feel that bad because each drive would be slow and plodding. The ND fans were bored, we were bored, oh hey another TD, what's the score again, oh look they have 40 now, meh.

We all want the magical blitz and stunt fairy dust to bestow upon us in Coral Gables, and watch this team give up only 14 points per game the rest of the season. Sorry folks, but it's not happening. Does that mean Mark D'Onofrio should be pink slipped? Absolutely not. Everyone forgets that last year he fielded a pretty good defense. Take a look at the comparisons between his two seasons at Miami and his last at Temple. And please, spare me the "Temple played in the MAC, it doesn't compare" argument. The talent D'Onofrio was using is relative to what he was going up against, so yes, it does compare.

2012 (6 games) 2011 2010
PPG 34.7 (103rd) 20.1 (21st) 19.1 (19th)
Total Yds 510.0 (122nd) 359.9 (47th) 317.7 (18th)
Pass Yds 1556 (101st) 2376 (31st) 2138 (16th)
Rush Yds 1504 (121st) 1943 (71st) 1674 (44th)
INTs 5 6 9
3rd Down Conv 45% 41% 38%
TFLs 27 74 61
Sacks 7 24 24
Comp/Att 16/27 17/26 17/29
Comp % 59.1% 66.3% 57.4%
Rushes/Game 50.3 39.4 38.3
Rushes/Carry 5.0 4.1 3.64
Rush Yds/Game 250.7 161.9 139.5

Last year the team finished 6-6, so it is forgivable if you assume the defense has always been bad under D'Onofrio. On top of that, the offense played extremely slow to help mitigate the defensive weaknesses, something this years team is not doing. But stats that have nothing to do with playing slow, such as 3rd down conversion rate, TFLs, and rushing yards per carry, all were better last year. As we've been preaching here since July, the lack of talent and depth at the interior tackle position is killing any chance Miami has at becoming a merely competent defensive unit. It is neutralizing Anthony Chickillo's effectiveness, as he is double teamed to a fault all game long. The young back seven, who are playing admirably and learning fast, especially Deon Bush and Eddie Johnson, clearly can't cover forever. Players are going to get open if they are given 5+ seconds to throw on every passing play.

Which brings us to D'Onofrio's (typing his name sucks, btw) tenure at Temple. The 2010 Temple defense was better than Miami's in many categories. A great 3rd down conversion rate, good completion percentage against, and a fantastic 3.64 yards per carry (LSU and Alabama were 3.73 and 3.29 respectively in 2010, for a barometer). But what I'd like to focus on that relates to Miami going forward is the player development up in Philadelphia. Muhammed Wilkerson was a 2-star nobody out of New Jersey, and under Golden and specifically D'Onofrio, he was drafted in the 1st round in 2011 and is now starting at DE for the NY Jets. Jaiquawn Jarrett was such an unknown, I can't find anything on his recruitment to Temple. This ghost from Brooklyn, which is about the farthest thing from a football hotbed you could imagine, ended up as the #2 player at his safety position going into the same 2011 NFL draft, and was selected by the Eagles in the 2nd round. He has since flamed out and been cut, but that doesn't dampen the fact he was turned into a genuine NFL prospect under D'Onofrio's tuteledge. He started as a true freshman, playing in all 12 games. He was one of 20 freshman to play that year, and one of 12 to earn starting roles in 2007. Temple lost their first five games that year, before regrouping, gaining experience, and finishing 4-3 the rest of the way. Sound familiar?

As much as we want to just blame D'Onofrio, throw him under the bus, and assume his long term friendship with Golden is the reason he already hasn't been sent packing, the reality is right in front of our eyes. You don't win in D1 playing freshman, just like you don't win in the NFL playing rookies. These guys are 18 years old, most with only 3-6 months of weight lifting, conditioning, and playbooks under their belts, going up against grown men 3-4 years their senior. A little help is potentially on the way as Curtis Porter is back from injury, and on paper the schedule is much easier on the back end. As per the youge, not many can say it better than master orator Golden:

"As I say to him (D'Onofrio) and the whole defensive staff, we’re moving the team forward. Just keep moving it forward. As I said to you guys before, it’s not like we’re hiding a bunch of fourth and fifth-year seniors on the scout-team field. Where are they? There are no fifth-year seniors, there are no fourth-year seniors – only a couple – and there are very few juniors.

"The guys we’re playing with right now are fighting every day, they’re learning, but they’re learning under fire. I think you go to Parris Island before you go to war, right? They’re learning on the battle field. Just stay positive, man. Just keep moving forward. We’ll get there. I promise you we’ll get there.’’

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It's going to get better, but probably not for awhile. Strap on those battle helmets folks.