Last week, we gazed behind the curtain and revealed a bit of what the defensive ends brought to Manny Diaz’ unit in 2017. Here, Part Two gives you a little more, including the highlights and lowlights of the season for the DE’s, along with a mini-preview of what to expect from the position next year in 2018. Enjoy.
Highlight - Notre Dame
In a night game at Hardrock Stadium, going up against the what was considered the nation’s best offensive line coming into the contest, and picked by nearly everyone to lose, Miami’s defense absolutely delivered. That goes double for the defensive ends. The Fighting Irish’s projected first round picks, OL’s Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, had no answer all night for the speed the Canes were bringing off the edge. The DE’s alone had 4 sacks and 5 TFL, and Manny Diaz’s unit recorded 5 sacks and 9 TFL total in Miami’s 41-8 romp over a #3 Notre Dame team that was averaging 41.3 points per game at the time. The ends also held their own against the run, consistently penetrating into the backfield and clamping down on the nation’s #5 rushing offense (324.8 ypg). ND finished the match-up with just 109 yards on the ground, over 200 yards below their season average.
The game’s standout was Trent Harris, who notched 2 sacks among his 3 tackles. But, on what may have been the most impressive individual play, true freshman DE Jonathan Garvin blew past the left tackle McGlinchey off the snap, and, for the second straight week, the true freshman knocked the ball free from an unsuspecting QB and recovered his own forced fumble. Coming midway through the 4th quarter, Garvin’s scintillating effort ended any Irish comeback hopes and sealed the game for Miami.
Lowlight - Pitt
In a contest that was hard to watch, the Canes came out with little effort and passion, struggling to a loss against a 4-7 Pitt team. While the Miami offense was primarily to blame with constant 3-and-outs, the defensive line made the least amount of impact plays it had all season. In fact, the DE’s accounted for just 0.5 sacks/TFL (by Harris) and failed to help contain a run game that was previously part of the #98th ranked offense in the country. The Panthers nickel and dimed UM for 152 yards on the ground, and all of this with a true freshman QB, Kenny Pickett, making his first career start. Pickett was constantly allowed by the Miami ends to break the pocket and scramble, and finished with 60 rushing yards and a TD on 13 carries. It was an ugly, forgettable game from start to finish for each level of the team.
Outlook for 2018
The Canes are taking serious casualties at defensive end and on the defensive line in general: what was once their greatest strength in 2017 may be Miami’s biggest weakness (at least depth-wise) in 2018. From D-End, gone are major senior contributors Chad Thomas (12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks in 2017) and Trent Harris (10.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks in 2017). Look for junior Joe Jackson to continue his ascent to super-stardom and solidify his NFL first round draft pick status at one spot. The other opening? Far be it from me to decide, but it’s likely the coaches will give the veteran senior Demetrius Jackson (career 16 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 6 starts) the first crack at a starting role (remember, he actually won the job across from Thomas out of camp in 2016 as a sophomore before getting injured). But, if he’s not 100% coming off his knee surgery, it could be the promising sophomore Jonathan Garvin that complements Joe Jackson; Garvin showed plenty of flashes in his true freshman season to warrant some real hype next year.
There’s a huge drop-off after those three, though. With the graduation losses, depth is a major issue, which was hurt even more by DJ Johnson’s decision to transfer closer to home. The only other defensive end on the roster is new spring arrival Gregory Rousseau, who could help out for depth purposes, but ideally needs a redshirt at 6’7” 225 pounds. The coaches could also switch former DE Scott Patchan back from tight end but, with as much as coach Kool and Manny Diaz love to rotate on the line and recognizing the possibility of injury, it’s clear only having three defensive ends you can trust is not enough. Look for the coaches to continue to recruit defensive ends hard during the final month of the cycle until signing day, while also potentially nabbing a JUCO player or grad transfer to further firm up the position.