In my piece “How coaches prepare their game plan,“ I discussed how offensive coordinators game plan and how Mike Leach looks for empty space and attacks that space the defensive coordinator leaves open for him. Against Bronco Mendenhall’s average UVA team, the Miami defense was carved up by Hoos quarterback Kurt Benkert in 2017.
At one point Miami was down 14-0 to the Cavaliers with Benkert’s career performance coming at ‘Canes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s expense. Benkert’s start saw him toss a perfect 18-of-18 passing for 288 yards and four touchdowns before his first incompletion. Eventually the turnovers and Malik Rosier’s own strong day passing became too much for UVA. But the question remains, how did UVA pick apart the Miami defense?
Again, we’ve talked about attacking space and how offensive coordinators will game plan for space that’s available. It could be medium and to the sideline- like a 12 yard comeback route, or the middle of the field which Diaz notoriously leaves open.
Against the look from Miami’s defense shown, I personally would have thrown a stalk-bubble to the top of the screen until Miami stopped it. With the poor tackling displayed on the day from Michael Jackson, Malek Young, and Sheldrick Redwine- make those cornerbacks and safeties tackle in space and prove to you that they will make a stop. But UVA utilizes a skinny post to perfection.
Here is the play from the end zone cam. The back helps in pass protection so the delayed blitz is on. The linebacker leaves a giant gap as the safety has rolled to help on the multi-receiver side and the cornerback is left in a one-on-one. Had he jammed and rode the receiver outside, this would be okay. However, he allowed an inside release with no linebacker or safety help against a post.
On this play, the middle linebacker does drop and covers the slant running across the field. Kurt Benkert looks and by the time he checks for a secondary read the defensive line is in his face forcing a sack.
Later on the drive, UVA motions the running back out to the flat. What that does is allows the UVA offensive staff to see if Miami will switch responsibilities by moving a 3rd receiver into being a 2nd receiver via motion. Miami should switch McCloud, the linebacker, to the swing route and let the safety play the slot receiver.
Instead, the safety has to run 15 yards downhill and McCloud gets turned around having to cover a more experienced route runner in space. UVA was starting to pick up on the Miami pass drop responsibilities and Benkert was picking the ‘Canes apart.
Confusion becomes panic
Whether it was Jackson, Young or Dee Delaney- the Miami defensive backs looked lost in coverage at times during the season. The weekly game plan might have been too complicated or possibly the lack of experience behind them after getting used to seniors Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter covered up the errors of the young corners the season before.
This long touchdown play is when coverage confusion turns into flat out panic for Diaz’s defense. UVA switches who the #1 and #2 threat are with a quick scissor before the route develops. This forces Miami to change responsibilities. Young properly takes the #1 receiver which in cover 3, cover 1, cover 4 or man- would be his man anyway.
When the outside receiver runs an out-and-up, Young stops on the out, like he should, but then lets the receiver go when the receiver runs the “up” or vertical. I’m not sure why on earth he would do that, but he does and it’s an easy touchdown for Benkert.
An area that I do love about Manny Diaz’s abilities is his willingness to make mid-game adjustments. He suffered a lot of yards in the middle of the field in the first half but eventually he’ll blitz less. When he stops blitzing he starts relying on his pass rushers to do their work as the offensive line melts in the heat and from the athleticism of a good ‘Canes defensive line.
With the linebackers doing less man coverage, and freed up to be athletic and play in space, it seems to be less confusion for everyone. The issues I saw when Diaz was hired was having his teams misaligned and blitzing himself into trouble with open space. The defensive backs are now in more quarters coverage and less man where they can get picked apart.
How do you fix this space?
I know this is a lot to take in so we’ll break it down:
The defensive line- the offense may leave seven guys in for pass protection, which will slow down the Miami pass rush, but that opens up seven defenders over three routes.
The linebackers- Miami can blitz one linebacker but they need to drop the other into the middle of the field or the “low hole.” The linebacker playing outside has his eyes on the H-back that’s winged and is playing the flat. That’s fine and takes away flat routes and bubbles for the most part.
The defensive backs- The cornerback (bottom of the screen) can’t play outside leverage if he’s not getting linebacker or safety help. For whatever reason, the safety at the bottom of the screen some how winds up in no-man’s land.
On the top of the screen, that corner is playing square and backed off. The safety is far too deep (15 yards) for “athletic” Miami but hey better safe than sorry.
Moral- Someone has to be in the middle of the field or offensive coordinators will continue to pick apart the Diaz defense and lesser-than teams like Toledo and UVA will continue to give Miami a scare.
Miami could play cover 2 man when they were out athlete’ing everyone by leaps and bounds in 2001. Today’s Miami is athletic but offenses without athletes, like UVA, have found ways to pick apart man coverage. Remember that Louisville-Miami game from 2006? That’s when Randy Shannon only having one coverage came back to haunt the ‘Canes against a real passing game and offensive scheme.