Despite Miami’s disappointing 5-4 record with the easiest schedule I can recall, there is much to be hopeful about going forward based on the last two weeks. Miami has somehow won three of the four most difficult games on its schedule, while losing arguably the two easiest—excluding G5 and FCS opponents.
The Regression of the Defense Early In the Season Was Alarming!
In 2019, Miami’s defense struggled early in the season. With the arrival of Blake Baker, it seemed the Canes were intent on schematically fixing what was not broken as they spied Florida QB, Felipe Franks, time after time in the opening game with Miami’s best pass rusher, Jonathan Garvin. With three man rushes and lineman dropping into coverage, Miami struggled to generate a pass rush in the 4th quarter against Florida and UNC and consequently collapsed late, allowing the opposition to score the game-winning touchdown. The 4th and 17 play where Blake Baker dialed up a safety blitz opposite the play side all the way from Timbuktu, rivals James Coley’s infamous half back pass in the “Sun” Bowl blizzard of 2015 against Washington State.
Against a resurgent VT team, Blake Baker’s defense did not show up at all, allowing score after score—albeit on short fields and after turnovers. In the VT game, Miami gave up an astounding 42 points on 5.35 ypp, which was the impetus for Manny Diaz stepping in and taking over a regressing Miami defense, that seemed to be languishing in confusion.
Manny Diaz Made Changes When Necessary, Which Has Returned the Defense to Form.
In the games against, UVA, Pitt, and FSU, Miami only allowed a combined 31 points. Against UVA, Miami’s stifling defense only allowed 4.57 yards per play (ypp), who put up 7.2 ypp and 38 points this past week against UNC. Against Pitt and FSU, Miami only allowed 4.35 and 2.94 ypp respectively.
It is no secret that since Greg Rousseau was introduced to Miami’s starting lineup (yes he should have been starting all along), Miami’s defensive front has returned to the form that Miami fans grew accustomed to during Manny Diaz’s tenure as DC. Miami now ranks 11th in opponent yards per play, 8th in yards per rush, 4th in sacks per game, and is tied for 6th in tackles for loss per game. Despite losing its entire secondary, DE Joe Jackson, and the human wrecking ball known as DT Gerald Willis, Miami’s defense is once again nearing an elite level.
An Eye For Talent?
Manny Diaz and the defensive staff under Mark Richt deserve credit for recognizing the infinite upside of Gregory Rousseau, an unheralded 3-star recruit in 2018. In recent weeks, DT Jordan Miller has also demonstrated a great motor coupled with impressive strength and quickness. Miller (also an unheralded recruit) and Rousseau, are the poster children for the fallibility of recruiting rankings and the pair look to be a formidable thorn in the side of the opposition for at least another year or two. If Miami is to return to national prominence, it needs more gems like Rousseau and Miller, who both have excellent athleticism for their respective positions.
Manny Diaz Has Made Small Changes Across the Board, From Special Teams to Offense.
While I am unsure the extent of Manny Diaz’s role within the Miami defense the last few weeks, the improvement has been remarkable. Being a head coach introduces a plethora of new duties which make it customary to offload coordinator duties to a newly hired assistant. While Diaz deserves blame for relying on Blake Baker, who was clearly not ready for the P5 stage at the beginning of the season, he also deserves credit for recognizing the problem and fixing it midseason.
As DC, Manny Diaz demonstrated a propensity to continually adjust and fine tune his defensive scheme. A coach that makes adjustments rather than simply asserting the players must “do their job,” (I’m talking to you Dan Enos) is a harbinger of future coaching success.
The punting game, which cost Miami multiple games last season, has been greatly improved in 2019 with the addition of Lou Hedley: Manny Diaz saw a problem maligning the Canes and he fixed it. In 2019, the placekicking game has plagued Miami, but Diaz has shown a willingness to adjust here as well. Manny Diaz has tried three kickers this season and it seems Camden Price has finally solidified himself as a serviceable option, going 3 of 4 on field goals in the last two games. If Diaz secures a transfer kicker for next season, it will be a good sign of his attention to detail. At Miami as elsewhere, competition breeds success.
On offense, Miami has seen marked improvement in the last two weeks as well. Against Pitt, the RPO out of the pistol formation made an appearance—both times it went for long gains and against Pitt it won the game. While Dan Enos still loves his bunch formations that stack the box with defenders Miami struggles to block (I don’t know why), he has been calling less and less slow developing play action plays lately, which resulted in a sack more times than not.
Miami’s offensive line has improved greatly in recent weeks and turned in its best game of the season against FSU. It seems Miami’s offensive line is learning to communicate better and the coaching staff is doing a better job of spelling Navaughn Donaldson and chipping edge rushers to aid the tackles with backs and tight ends. DeeJay Dallas in particular, has been a great pass blocker in recent weeks.
While Miami failed to meet its goal of ten wins or more and an undisputed ACC Coastal crown this season (most likely), Miami must finish strong in the next four games and take that momentum into next year. Like the Miami Hurricanes, Manny Diaz is still learning how to be a head coach and Canes fans must hope he uses his intelligence to continually make minor adjustments that result in major improvement.
Unlike past teams, the 2019 Hurricanes team has stood together and not quit, but if they are to beat Louisville, they must play this week with the intensity and focus of the last. Louisville has won three in a row against the Canes: let’s not make it four!