There was a moment during his weekly news conference Tuesday when University of Miami coach Al Golden’s tone shifted.
Having been asked multiple questions about his defense’s weekly struggles, Golden no longer appeared to be directing his answers to the media. Instead, it was as if he was speaking to his players, trying to instill confidence in them.
“I know … it hasn’t all been perfect, but we’ve improved each of the last three weeks, and we’ve improved enough to win games against teams that are considerably more veteran and experienced than ourselves,” Golden said. “We’ve been able to do that despite mistakes and despite all that we aren’t.”
What the Hurricanes “aren’t” is a veteran team with a nearly impenetrable defense.
That would be No. 9 Notre Dame, UM’s opponent Saturday night in Chicago.
What the Hurricanes are is a team with an explosive offense and an unpredictable defense that has thus far stayed afloat because of its ability to force opportunistic turnovers.
For all of the Hurricanes’ defensive struggles — the 495 yards per game they have allowed, the 33 points per game they have given up — UM is tied for 11th in the nation in forced turnovers with 12.
So far, that has been enough.
UM is 4-1 and 3-0 in the ACC and off to its best start since 2009.
How much longer it will be enough remains a question, especially against the nationally ranked Fighting Irish (4-0).
“There’s going to be a day where [the offense and defense] all play our best on the same day,” Golden said. “As I said to the team, ‘Why not this week?’ ”
If Saturday is to be the day when the Hurricanes defense plays well, it could be because of the expected return of injured linebackers Denzel Perryman and Raphael Kirby.
According to linebacker Eddie Johnson, Perryman is the “president” of the linebacker corps, a unit made up largely of underclassmen.
When Perryman, Kirby and linebacker Ramon Buchanan all went down with injuries early in the season — or, in Kirby’s case, during training camp — the Hurricanes were stretched thin at the position.
“[We didn’t] really have much room to work with there, so it’s nice to see some of those guys come back,” Golden said.
A true freshman last season, Perryman was second on the team in tackles in 2011.
“Having [Perryman] back, seeing him run around, that feels good because we know that we have our big stick back,” Johnson said.
Rather than pointing to injuries, senior cornerback Brandon McGee said that it is hard for a young defense to reach its potential at the beginning of a season.
“It’s all a process,” McGee said. “You just can’t expect all the young guys to go out there and play like veterans. As the season progresses they’re just going to keep on getting better.”
McGee said that in order to improve his teammates have to be open to criticism from their coaches.
“Don’t put your ego up,” McGee said. “If someone tells you something it’s for your own good. It’s like medicine: nobody likes how it tastes, but it’s good for you.”
Notre Dame is only 95th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense, but the Fighting Irish have been facing tough teams like Michigan and Michigan State.
Even if the Hurricanes give up another 500 yards on Saturday, all cornerback Thomas Finnie will be looking at is which team is ahead on the scoreboard.
“It does [get frustrating] at times,” said Finnie of his team’s failings at defense. “But at the end of the day a win is a win.”