In a roller-coaster season that ended on a flurry of negatives, this edition of the State of the U awards will feature a steady dose of positives. In the following paragraphs, we’ll review the defensive line’s performance and hopefully validate their nod as Miami’s best positional unit of 2019
Where better to begin than No. 15...or shall we say, 15.5
It should come as no surprise that the brightest star of 2019 was defensive end Gregory Rousseau.
The redshirt-freshman finished the year with an ACC-best 15.5 sacks, equaling Greg Mark (1989) for the second-highest single-season total in school history, and falling just 1.5 sacks shy of Daniel Stubbs’ (1986) Miami record of 17.
Rousseau has shown flashes of brilliance since arriving on campus nearly two years ago. Although, his journey to becoming a household name was unquestionably a bumpy ride. As a true freshman in 2018, Rousseau suffered a season-ending ankle injury that limited the Coconut Creek, Florida native to only two games.
Even his breakout 2019 campaign endured a few early-season hiccups. The most notable among them was the head-scratching decision to hold Rousseau out of the starting lineup until the seventh game (Oct. 19 vs Georgia Tech).
Entering the aforementioned Georgia Tech game, where he also served as a captain, Rousseau led the team with five sacks -- three more than the next highest defensive lineman. And after taking his place among the starters, he erupted with 10.5 sacks over the final seven games.
Rousseau exploded onto the scene with a three-sack performance at Pittsburgh, followed by a four-sack outburst at FSU, making him just the sixth Hurricane to log a three-sack game since 2000 and the first since Marcus Robinson in 2011. Despite getting blanked in the sack column vs Louisville and FIU, Rousseau bounced back with 3.5 sacks over his final two games, including a two-sack outing at Duke.
The 6-foot-6, 251-pounder ended the year with a team-high seven QB hurries and finished ninth in the nation with 19.5 tackles for loss -- the most by a Cane since Calais Campbell (20.5) in 2006. His 15.5 sacks were second nationally, making Rousseau the only FBS freshman with double-digit sack totals. And on top of his First-Team All-ACC and Second-Team All-American honors, Rousseau became the first Hurricane since Sean Spence (2008) to be named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Defensive End: The rest of the best
Flanking Rousseau was returning starter Jonathan Garvin, who declared for the NFL draft following a junior season that saw “Neo” record nine tackles for loss and five sacks.
While the sack totals were similar to his sophomore campaign (5.5), his TFL numbers underwent a sharp decline from 17 in 2018. The Lake Worth, FL native also saw his tackles dip from 60 to 37 and his pass deflections tumble from five to zero while appearing in 12 of 13 games.
Garvin, however, did leave on a high note, recording career-highs of 10 tackles, 3.5 TFL and a season-best two sacks during the season finale at Duke.
The acquisition of Virginia Tech graduate-transfer Trevon Hill provided the Hurricanes with perhaps the deepest defensive end unit in the conference. During his lone season in Coral Gables, Hill appeared in all 12 regular-season games (one start), recording 27 tackles while finishing fourth on the team with 9.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks. Like Garvin, he saved his best for last, posting a season-high four stops at Duke.
Redshirt-senior Scott Patchan has seen it all at the University of Miami. The son of Matt Patchan — a two-time national champion at The U — Scott Patchan was a consensus 4-star recruit out of high school before injuries nearly derailed his college career.
In his first three seasons at Miami, he appeared in only six games, two of which were at tight end after injuries prompted a mid-season position change.
Over the last two seasons, Scott Patchan appeared in 25 of 26 games, including all 13 this year. In 2019, he recorded 33 tackles, 6 TFL and 2.5 sacks while starting the first six games in place of fifth round draft pick Joe Jackson. During the Independence Bowl, the IMG Academy alum notched career-highs with eight tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks.
It’s been reported that Scott Patchan will apply for another year of eligibility via medical redshirt. If approved, the sixth-year senior would provide depth and experience to a position that is losing two key contributors.
Defensive End: The Future
At the conclusion of 2019, freshman Jahfari Harvey seems most likely to breakout at the position in 2020. After spending much of the season third on the depth chart, it’s anticipated that Harvey will earn a redshirt with only four appearances. Early on, Harvey saw action in the first three contests of 2019 — highlighted by his lone tackle vs Bethune-Cookman — but the former Vero Beach standout wouldn’t make another appearance until the bowl game.
While Harvey is the lead-breakout candidate among those that saw the field, we can’t discount former 5-star prospect and Scout’s top-ranked defensive end of 2017, Jaelan Phillips. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, the UCLA-transfer brings a similar build as Rousseau and could replace Garvin as a starter in 2020. And should Rousseau bolt for the NFL in a year, Phillips would be a very suitable consolation prize as a redshirt-senior in 2021.
Another returning end is the highly recruited Cameron Williams, who will enter 2020 as a redshirt-freshman. Miami will also feature incoming 4-star freshmen Chantz Williams and Elijah Roberts, as well as 3-star end Quentin Williams.
A couple of scout team standouts that could provide depth in 2020 or compete for a special teams’ gig are Shawn Walker and Josh Neely. Despite not seeing the field since his arrival, Walker, out of Cardinal-Gibbons, was a two-time Scout Team Player of the Week in 2019 as a redshirt-junior.
As for Neely, the true freshman and Miami native picked up Scout Team POW honors prior to the Georgia Tech and Florida State contests.
Defensive Tackle: Continuity is key entering 2020
For the second straight year, the Canes defense replaced its line coach and a standout(s) at the tackle position following the departures of coach Jess Simpson and senior Gerald Willis. Prior to 2018, Miami watched as juniors RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton each declared for the draft.
In the face of heavy losses over the past two seasons, the Hurricanes have taken the grad-transfer route to serve as a band-aid until youngsters like Nesta Jade Silvera and Jordan Miller come of age. And while UCLA transfer Chigozie Nnoruka did a nice job providing additional depth for a year, the starting jobs were locked down by a pair of returning Canes in Jonathan Ford and Pat Bethel.
A preseason injury to Silvera cost the big man four games, however, the duo of Ford and Bethel would start every game in 2019, combining for 42 tackles, 9 TFL and 4.5 sacks. Silvera chipped in 19 tackles and a sack in nine games, Nnoruka added a dozen stops and one TFL in 13 games while the redshirt-freshman Miller played in every game, recording 12 tackles and 2.5 TFL.
The defensive tackles didn’t put up flashy numbers like the edge rushers but they remained steady. Ford posted a career-high four tackles against Virginia and recorded three tackles in each of the final two games. Bethel, meanwhile, finished with a season-high four stops vs FIU. He also had three tackles and sack vs Georgia Tech.
Entering 2020, Ford, Miller and Silvera should provide Miami with a nice three-man building block on the interior line. And assuming D-line coach Todd Stroud returns, the position should finally benefit from some top-to-bottom consistency. The losses of Bethel, Nnoruka and Tyreic Martin (transfer) won’t help in regards to depth, but there should be no drop-off in talent.
Injuries limited the development of Silvera this fall, but expect the former 4-star to have a breakout campaign in 2020. Ford, the lone senior, is obviously the most experienced and will be looking to prove worthy of a draft pick in his final season. Last but not least, Miller will present a run-stuffing nose tackle/1-technique with his 320-plus frame.
As mentioned, the question mark will be depth. Yes, Miami has three legitimate options but an injury could spell trouble unless the youngsters develop. Head coach Manny Diaz signed three tackles in 2019 but none of them appeared in more than two games. Jalar Holley, whose claim to fame was cutting a rug on the sidelines, saw action in only two games. Additionally, Jason Blissett and Jared Harrison-Hunte each made one appearance, both coming against Bethune-Cookman. Harrison-Hunte also picked up Scout Team POW honors prior to Virginia.
Four-star Chaminade-Madonna defensive tackle Willie Moise is expected to sign with Miami next month. And assuming he honors his commitment when putting pen to paper, Moise will be the only interior D-lineman in the Class of 2020. With a 4.78 forty at 290-plus pounds, Moise has the type of athleticism that coaches salivate over. But how much of an immediate impact he’ll have remains to be seen.
In closing, the Miami D-line has been the anchor of every great Hurricanes defense. And while the line was voted the “best unit” of 2019, it’s obvious the defensive ends were the MVPs of the front-four.
That brings us to the million dollar question: Who can step-up opposite of Rousseau in 2020 following the departure of Garvin? If Phillips lives up to the hype and the tackles take a step forward (I see no reason why they won’t), the line should once again be the strength of the team - possibly better than this year.
Now let’s pray the offense catches up.