Help is on the way for the Miami Hurricanes’ defense, which is in dire need after a 41-40 loss at Virginia on Saturday.
Denzel Perryman, the Canes’ top linebacker, is “probable” to return for Saturday’s final home game of the season against nonconference opponent South Florida (3-6). He has a leg injury.
Canes coach Al Golden was a little less optimistic about starting safety Deon Bush, who missed the Virginia game because of a stinger. Golden said he would list Bush as “doubtful” at the moment, but is hopeful the freshman can heal quickly.
Golden said he has yet to determine the status of starting linebacker Eddie Johnson or reserve linebacker Gabe Terry, both of whom were not on the Virginia trip because of football-related issues. Presumably, both could return if they have an intense week of practice.
On offense, suspended wide receiver Rashawn Scott will not play this week.
“We’ve had some selfishness creep in,” Golden said. “It’s a shame that a couple of kids don’t do the right things, and it steals the spotlight from the kids who do it right.”
Miami did get good news on offensive tackle Malcolm Bunche, who left the field injured Saturday but later returned. Golden said Bunche is sore but should be ready to play Saturday.
Besides injuries, the biggest thing the Canes (5-5, 4-3 ACC) have to heal is their psyche. Golden said Saturday’s loss was “painful” and compared it to the 38-35 defeat the Canes suffered last year at Virginia Tech.
Virginia put together an 18-play, 87-yard drive to beat the Canes on a touchdown pass with just six seconds left in the game. Miami would have stopped the drive and likely won the game had it not been for a holding penalty on cornerback Thomas Finnie on a fourth-and-7 pass.
“It’s tough for me to comment on that,” Golden said. “I’ve coached the secondary a lot. … I don’t think I would have coached [Finnie] any differently [on that play].”
On the winning touchdown pass, a 10-yard throw from Michael Rocco to Jake McGee, Golden said the Canes had a breakdown.
“It was a perfectly thrown ball, but we had two players who were not where they were supposed to be against a look we see from our offense all the time,” said Golden, who declined to name the offending parties. “There are 11 seconds left, and everyone knows they have to throw it in the end zone, and for them to get behind us is heartbreaking.”
Virginia took advantage of the fact that the Canes were missing Perryman, Bush and Johnson, and attacked the middle of the Miami defense repeatedly.
“Our corners held up well for most of the game,” Golden said, “but when you lose playmakers at linebacker and safety, you are putting out fires.”
Despite those issues and the Canes’ three conference losses, Miami can still win the Coastal Division with a victory over Duke in a couple of weeks.
“This is not going to be a perfect year,” Golden said. “We’re a scratch-and-claw team.”
Meanwhile, Golden said Duke Johnson’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Allen Hurns in the first quarter almost got left on the cutting-room floor. Johnson’s throws in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices were “bad,” the coach said.
“[But Johnson] has an unrelenting pursuit of excellence, and, by Thursday, it was better. By Friday, it was ready to go,” Golden said. “We showed him video of NFL guys who have done it, and [on Saturday], he threw a dart.”
Golden gave credit to his coaching staff for keeping Johnson’s “odometer” low this season.
“We want him to have a great career, not just one year,” Golden said of Johnson, who had 368 all-purpose yards on Saturday. “We’ve done a great job of keeping [Johnson’s] play count low and still giving him the ball. He’s been in about 350 plays. Brandon Linder’s at 742, Brandon McGee’s at 731, and Anthony Chickillo’s at 695.”
Golden said that if Johnson hit the proverbial wall this season, it was against Notre Dame.
“Those three weeks after Notre Dame were kind of rough for him,” Golden said. “The bye week helped him out. Clearly, he’s been a different cat these past two games.”