The Miami Hurricanes are not back after a 9-4 season but one thing is clear just one year into the Mark Richt Era: The defense has returned to elite levels.
After five painful years of curiously rewiring the brains of dynamic athletes to employ a read-and-react mentality instead of the fast, instinctual attacking football they grew up playing, all it took was ONE YEAR of “unwavering violence” to undo the insanity.
And this was despite losing arguably their top defensive lineman in Al-Quadin Muhammad and their best linebacker in Jermaine Grace, all the while suiting up three freshman linebackers as starters.
That ass-kicking in the Russell Athletic Bowl, in which they allowed just 14 points while racking up four sacks, wasn’t a mirage but an exclamation point on a hell of a season.
Miami ranked 13th in defensive efficiency this year, per Football Outsiders’ FEI ratings, which accounts for meaningless clock-killing drives, strength of opponent, etc. Last year they ranked 57th.
Manny Diaz, you sir, deserve a fat raise. Ditto for line coach Craig Kuligowski. As Vishnu wrote, “This defense managed to be aggressive, smart and solid with freshmen all over the field.”
The defensive line was especially ferocious, ranking ninth in adjusted line yards (measuring run defense) and second in stuff rate, the latter representing the percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. Last year, the Canes ranked 102nd and 127th in those two areas, respectively. These are massive leaps.
As far as getting after the passer, Miami ranked 25th in adjusted sack rate, up from 52nd last year. Freshman end Joseph Jackson (7.5 sacks) is primed to become Miami’s next great pass rusher.
ESPN’s defensive efficiency metrics told the same story, with Miami ranking 14th overall, up from 52nd a season ago.
Want traditional stats? They grade out strong there as well.
Note: Last year’s ranking is in parenthesis
Points allowed: 12th (77th)
Tackles for loss: 8th (96th)
Sacks: 22nd (64th)
Third down conversions: 53rd (67th)
The Miami Hurricanes’ defense is back, folks.
Gone is the tentative, bend-but-don’t-break mentality instilled by Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio. They’re swarming again, flying around the field and attacking the line of scrimmage.
There’s no reason it won’t continue next season as they return their entire front seven. However, for the Canes to really be back, it’s going to be on Mark Richt and the offense, which ranked 50th in offensive efficiency in 2016.