When Coach Golden took over the University of Miami Football Program he brought with him a resume that boasted an above average, smash-mouth rushing attack and a swarming, disciplined three defensive linemen, four linebacker front commonly known as a "34." However, what he was walking into at UM was a personnel grouping that was specifically tailored for four defensive linemen and three linebacker sets known as a "43." Even though it sounds like there's just a one player difference there's SO MUCH MORE than that. Each scheme asks its players to accomplish drastically different objectives when they're on the field. To get a breakdown please see my article from last season discussing the topic HERE. If you want the cliff notes version, the essential point of a 34 defense is to control the point of attack in the running game and to confuse the quarterback into making mistakes when he's trying to pass.
The "rub" about 34 personnel though is that player characteristics need to be pretty specific or it simply isn't effective. The three down linemen weigh in at about 280-320 pounds on average and are asked to take up blocks along the offensive line (they aren't necessarily asked to get after the QB). Linebackers are usually asked to beef up too because they need to both take punishment from the advancing offensive lineman as well as push back and try to get to the QB from any angle possible. Remember, because there are three down lineman usually a linebacker "comes after" the QB. The trick is the blitzing ‘backer can come from anywhere on the field and anyone of the 4 linebackers.
Now that we've given a brief breakdown of how the 34 works, lets address the elephant in the room. Why has Miami struggled so mightily the last three, going on four (no pun intended) years on defense? The reason is masked in recruiting from the old regime to present day. Let's take a look at how the defensive players have changed from 2011 to those who we believe will be starting in 2014.
If you look at the above graphic you can tell the Canes were just too undersized to run a 34 in year one of Coach Golden's tenure. The easiest section of the defense to highlight is linebacker. What I didn't outline earlier was the size of a good 34 linebacker. They tip the scales at about 230 to 250 pounds... easy. Again, this is due to the fact that they will be taking on and hopefully shedding blocks by the offensive linemen. As you can see, the UM linebackers were undersized and that's why teams like Maryland and Kansas State were able to take advantage of the porous rushing defense. Mix in play action and you have yourself a "barn burner" on your hands when trying to stop an opponent.
In 2012 the team got younger, smaller and simply put... were less disciplined. Swap out Ojomo for a svelte Anthony Chickillo at 265 at one defensive end spot and then throw out Eddie Johnson for off the field/injury issues with a mix of Gionni Paul and Tyrone Cornelius and the defensive unit got really shallow in talent really quickly. Golden was recruiting players but they simply were not ready to contribute in live action situations or were not at the skill level needed to compete against top division 1A teams. Denzel Perryman was and is a great player but he can't be everywhere at once. This unit again saw their rushing numbers against go through the roof because, like the season before, they were under sized and didn't have the correct personnel in place. This collective unit ended up being one of the worst defenses in the country and UM history..
Statistically this group was better than the disastrous 2012 team (yay....?) but many could argue they were just as bad. Every QB that went against the Canes seemed to have a career passing day except GT who... well.. doesn't throw the ball all that often. The Canes Defensive Unit was more physical in the running game and did cause more turnovers than the previous season but the overall numbers were still lowly ranked. As you can see in the graphic, the unit as a whole is getting "heavier." Compare the linebackers now and look at the 2011 squad. Almost to a man they were 10-30 pounds heavier. The issue again at hand was overall talent. As each year went by, Coach Golden was able to plug in more of "his players" that fit his scheme; guys that could throw their weight around and get after the QB from all angles. Besides turnovers jumping from the year before the sack numbers almost doubled from the teens to the high twenties. This was mainly accredited to the rushing ends led by Tyriq McCord who were able to get home against the oppositions QBs.
Can't really say much about the current lineup because well.. that's the future and who knows what's going to happen. What is plain to see is that the defensive linemen are all huge. The "thinnest" linemen if you call him that would be 285 pounds and the rotation of six to eight players average about 290 pounds. The linebackers are also larger and look to hold their own in the trenches as well with two of the three being 235 and Perryman being 240. AQM and McCord are kind of in their own little worlds because they play a different position from both the ‘backers and linemen. They both can hold their own too as both tip the scales 245+.
If you're wondering why I never mentioned the secondary it's because the 34 really is dictated by the front seven. If the defensive line and the linebackers compete and execute, the secondary gets to make the team look good with interceptions. They can't do much when a running back is already 25 yards down the field, they can only "contain" the damage.
In the end what we've had is a transition of sorts. UM has gone from a light, speedy defense to hopefully a hard hitting, disciplined machine. Unfortunately the transformation's positive results haven't been seen on the field as of yet. Will the 34 philosophy work in Miami? Will Golden's personnel execute the game plan given to them moving forward? We shall have to see.