Coach Manny Diaz took the reins of the Miami Hurricanes football program and doesn’t plan on looking back. Diaz has hired a new defensive coordinator in former protege Blake Baker. Baker comes to Miami from Louisiana Tech where the Bulldogs have seen vast improvement under Skip Holtz over the past five seasons.
Baker worked under Manny Diaz at two stops, back in Austin, TX during their time at University of Texas together when Baker was a graduate assistant, and at Louisiana Tech. Baker has coached both linebackers and defensive backs which leads me to believe he’ll be working with the inside linebackers while Jonathan Patke continues his efforts with Romeo Finley and the strikers.
Baker, like Diaz, is going to mainly use a four man front, two inside linebackers, two safeties, and two true corners with a hybrid player in the slot. Also like Diaz, Baker likes to bring pressure in the high risk / high reward method.
Louisiana Tech dominates the highest-graded players from the Hawaii Bowl pic.twitter.com/JA2MnLKfap— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 24, 2018
Louisiana Tech hung their hat on playing aggressive defense. Compared to their 104th ranked offense, La Tech had the 46th ranked defense per the S&P+ and an 8-5 record in 2018. That was an increase from 73rd in 2017, 113th in 2016, and 80th in 2015. That being said, I like what the Bulldogs do on the football field.
The Bulldogs finished the 2018 season ranked 36th in points per play, 29th in takeaways per game (ahead of Miami), and 7th in sacks per game (also ahead of Miami). Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson had an outstanding year for Baker’s defense. Ferguson logged 65 tackles (26 for a loss) and 17.5 sacks on the season. That gives Ferguson 45 career sacks in Baker’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Kurt Hester, the General Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Louisiana Tech, has done a great job of focusing on how to build power and movement in lower rated athletes and the improvements on defense usually reflect the work done in the athletic performance department. The Bulldogs recruiting lands between 70-100 per 247 Sports as they land a few three-star players and mostly two-star athletes.
Baker players mostly a 4-2-5 with a hybrid type player like the ‘Canes striker out over slot receivers. The defensive ends will at times play standing up, or with their hand in the dirt depending on the down, distance, and scheme they’re facing. The defense predominantly uses two high safeties, but pressure is a premium for Baker just like for Diaz.
The first game that popped up on YouTube was the Bulldogs game from 2018 against the UAB Blazers. The Blazers were held to only 5.7 yards per attempt and tossed an interception, but ran for 229 yards and three scores on 5.2 yards per carry as a team. UAB won 28-7 to keep the Blazers return to college football chugging along.
Something we’ve seen at Miami at times is a breakdown in coverage responsibilities. In the play below, the single receiver side sees a safety and corner blitz leaving an uncovered receiver who scores on a 40-yard touchdown throw.
That’s not the only blown coverage. To the top of the screen the back is also uncovered out of the backfield as the nickel floats towards mid-field with the Texas route from the h-back.
Against FAU, Baker’s defense brings 5-man pressure here in a strip sack on the Owls quarterback. Turnovers, pressure, and aggressive defense are the mantras Manny Diaz promotes and you see them in action in the GIF below. The Bulldogs held FAU to 4.4 yards per passing attempt and an interception but gave up 171 rushing yards on nine yards per carry to FAU running back Devin Singletary.
In the coverage game, the Bulldogs intercept this Rafe Peavy pass on an awesome play from Darryl Lewis.
The Bulldogs won the 2018 Hawaii Bowl over the Hawaii Warriors 31-14. Louisiana Tech held Cole McDonald and the Warriors to 4.9 yards per passing attempt and intercepted three passes. They held Hawaii to only 1.8 yards per carry on the day, too. In the GIF below, you can see that Manny Diaz style of pressure getting in the Hawaii QB’s face and resulting in a big sack for the Bulldogs.
More pressure and another sack from La Tech.
Coach Diaz is obviously hiring Coach Baker because he will be the best fit to continue his scheme without a drop off or change. The learning curve will be minimal for the players and Diaz can guide Baker while not having to hold his hand like he would with Patke and Banda who would be brand new to calling a game.
Obviously Baker isn’t used to four-star talent like Miami has and I expect to see havoc on the defensive side of the football under the Diaz-Baker regime. This is a good hire as Louisiana Tech has improved under Skip Holtz and Diaz trusts Baker to deliver his program culture, values and message in Coral Gables.