DURHAM, N.C. -- Miami coach Al Golden, head bowed, couldnt look up when asked about his defense following yet another Atlantic Coast Conference game in which his players on that side of the ball became unglued and were virtually manhandled.
Too many explosive runs, too many missed tackles, Golden said after the Hurricanes allowed more than 500 yards on defense for the fourth time in the past five games in a 48-30 loss at Duke. Weve got to dig deeper.
The Hurricanes were 7-0 and a contender for a spot in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Oct. 26. Less than a month later, UM is staring at some awful stats that include a three-game skid in which the Canes have allowed 41, 42 and 48 points.
Duke had outscored opponents 72-27 this season in the fourth quarter, and this time around the Blue Devils romped over the UM defense for 17 unanswered points in the final quarter and 158 yards.
They wore us down, Golden said.
Players refused to point fingers at the coaching staff or each other after the deflating loss.
I dont think were doing a good job of executing and playing fundamental football, safety A.J. Highsmithsaid. If its not one thing, its another. Sometimes it has been coverage issues on the back end, and sometimes it is poor tackles on all three levels of the defense. It just feels like it is something here and something there that are resulting in big chunk plays for the other team.
Duke amassed 358 yards on the ground, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. UMs players know theyre not going to win many football games allowing such numbers, even when the offense gets 565 yards.
We have to go back to the basics in practice with fundamentals every day, Highsmith said.
Highsmith took to the offensive when asked if the poor defensive showings should be placed on defensive coordinator Mark DOnofrio.
I dont think they know much about football [if they want to blame him], Highsmith said. If you break down the film, you know its not Coach Ds fault. I have always backed him up. He knows what hes doing. It works. Weve got to back him up more.
Stephen Morris threw for 202 yards in the first half and passed the 7,000-yard career mark in the second quarter, becoming the fourth Miami quarterback to reach that plateau. The senior needs less than 500 yards in his final two regular-season games and any postseason play to pass Gino Torretta. Ken Dorsey (9,565) and Jacory Harris (8,826) rank 1-2 on the list.
UM was called for just a combined four penalties in consecutive losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech, but was flagged six times for 60 yards in the opening half. None may have been more crucial than Morris unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in the second quarter with Miami marching toward another score. Morris appeared to be tackled out of bounds by a Duke defender but no late hit was called. Frustrated by no call on the play, Morris tossed the ball toward an official. The dead-ball foul pushed the Hurricanes from the Duke 8 to the 25, and UM had to settle for a field goal.
Key injuries continue to pile up for the Hurricanes. The main loss Saturday was freshman Stacy Coley, who became the first freshman in the country this season to have a receiving touchdown and also have touchdowns on a kickoff and punt return. Coley took a punt 79 yards 5:27 into the game to give the Hurricanes a quick 10-0 lead. But he was lost on his next kickoff return with an apparent concussion. Also injured was freshman defensive back Artie Burns (ankle).