The Hurricanes tremendous run in 2017 starts and ends with their defense. With the emergence of the Turnover Chain, the Canes swag came from their defense, and was the key to many victories last season.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, now in his third year in that role has the Canes ready to put the hammer down on more offenses in 2018.
As we did last week with the offense, lets see what some of the strengths and weaknesses are with the Canes defense.
A position of almost no concern for Miami. Returning are Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney, starters who have played together since coming to Coral Gables in 2016. Also, Romeo Finley moved from safety, and will be assisting the Canes, as McCloud still recovers from a wrist injury.
The linebackers combined for 8 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in 2017, and have looked dominant in spring and fall camp. Quarterman has been recognized in several pre-season All-american lists, while Pinckney has appeared in All-ACC lists.
With all three starters returning, and Finley coming in to help, this group is the biggest strength for Miami’s defense.
Weakness: Pass Coverage
Though the Hurricanes would go onto intercept 17 passes in 2017, the struggles in their pass coverage started to come to life.
In the final four games of last year, three of them losses, Miami’s opposing quarterbacks combined to complete 70% of their passes. Quarterbacks like Kurt Benkert from Virginia torched Miami for over 350 yards. Miami finished 56th in the country in pass defense.
While they do have Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson returning as DB’s, this will be a glaring window of improvement that Miami will have to buckle down on. Players like Trajan Bandy and Jhavonte Dean will have to step up.
Kind of contradicting myself I know, but turnovers were a huge part of the Hurricanes success in 2017. Miami forced 31 turnovers last season, inspiring the birth of the Turnover Chain.
Turnovers were the key to crucial victories against teams like Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, forcing a combined eight turnovers those two games.
Luckily for Miami, both Jackson and Johnson were tied for the team-lead in interceptions, both returning.
Weakness: Defensive Line
There are several reasons why this unit makes the weakness list. First, Miami lost d-lineman R.J. McIntosh, Trent Harris and Kendrick Norton to the NFL, three players that helped the Hurricanes lead the nation in sacks per game (3.4).
Second, the Canes also lost their defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski to Nick Saban and Alabama. Georgia high school coach Jess Simpson replaces Kuligowsi, and has only one returning starter on the line, Joe Jackson.
The talent is certainly there, and this unit has proved to be outstanding in Diaz’s first two years at Miami. Though, it will be up to players line Gerald Willis, Pat Bethel and Jonathan Garvin to keep up the pressure, if they can't do that, there’ll be even more pressure on the secondary.
Strength: Run Defense
Though at the points during 2017, this would've been a weakness, by seasons end, the Hurricanes defense turned it into a strength.
Against Notre Dame, a team that averaged 269 rushing yards a game, the Hurricanes held the Irish to just 109. Even in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin, Miami held the Badgers to almost 100 yards below their season average.
With the linebackers back, and a talented front four, Miami will have the potential to be this dominant against the run again. Games against FSU’s Cam Akers or Boston College’s AJ Dillion will prove that.
Weakness: UNPROVEN TALENT
I put this in caps, not because its a glaring problem, but its what Miami’s defense needs to capitalize most on.
Honestly, the Canes don't have too many weaknesses on defense, truly. I couldn't think of a specific third struggle. These new-ish players are just going to have to step up.
Can Trajan Bandy be that next great corner? Will Demetrius Jackson bounce back, and can these unproven guys on the d-line play up to their potential?
Canes just have to focus on three things on defense: Turnovers, pass defense, getting to the quarterback.