The Miami Hurricanes defense — laughably bad over the past two years and historically ugly in 2012 — proved Saturday against the 12th-ranked Florida Gators they are worthy of some trust.
Using words like bigger, stronger and more mature, UM coach Al Golden kept telling everyone in camp his defense was ready to be counted on.
And for the final three quarters Saturday, while the offense coughed, wheezed and sputtered, Denzel Perryman, Tracy Howard, Tyriq McCord and others kept delivering big play after big play to lead the Hurricanes to a 21-16 win against the kind of opponent that earned them some real respect.
“Without trust you don’t have anything,” said Howard, who picked off a Jeff Driskel pass midway through the fourth quarter, one of four times the Hurricanes turned the Gators away inside the red zone.
“We got great leaders on our team in Jimmy Gaines, Denzel Perryman. Me and Tyriq, we’re young guys but we have a voice on the team. If you can make plays, you can talk … when our offense was struggling we never got down on those guys. We always said ‘Pick it up. We got your back no matter what.’ I think that’s a big thing for our team.’ ”
The Hurricanes held Florida to a mere 2.8 yards a carry and forced five turnovers in all.
And no turnover was more important to the final result than McCord’s sack and forced fumble of Driskel, which he recovered, and led to what turned out to be Duke Johnson’s decisive 2-yard touchdown run with 3:29 to play.
“A year ago, maybe that would have been a sack, but it wouldn’t have been a sack fumble,” Golden said. “Same thing with Tracy — maybe he would have gotten a pass break-up.
“Guys are where they’re supposed to be … you trust them to go ahead to make the play and finish the play, they’re good enough to do it.”
McCord, who said he had been dreaming of that moment, said everyone on Miami’s defense “fed off each other,” especially weakside linebacker Denzel Perryman.
The 6-foot, 240-pound junior, whose taken his licks on UM’s defense since was a true freshman, has always been a player Golden has tried to squeeze more out of.
He finished with a team-high 13 tackles, one shy of his career mark. But aside from that, Perryman was all over the field.
He forced the fumble that led to Miami’s first touchdown, a vicious hit on Gators running back Matt Jonese.
He came up with a stop along with Olsen Pierre on 4th and-1 at the Canes 16 in a second quarter that saw UF outgain UM 123-2 in yardage.
He also made a key stop on Florida’s opening drive of the second half, stopping receiver Quinton Dunbar who might have scored by getting a piece of his leg on third down. It forced Florida to settle for a field goal.
“The one thing that’s different about Denzel Perryman right now are the habits that he’s forming every day — by how he’s finishing and how he’s practicing, and it’s carrying over to the game,” Golden said. “I hope he’s a believer now, I hope he understands that it is important.”
Perryman said he just kept telling his teammates to play poised. Miami’s defense did, even though it spent 38 minutes and 20 seconds on the field Saturday while Florida ran 24 more plays than the Canes’ offense did.
“I can’t even begin to give them the amount of praise they deserve,” Canes running back Dallas Crawford said. “They won the game for us. We just really appreciate the defense.”