Of all the things coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is proud of when it comes to the Hurricanes’ vast improvement on defense, it’s the fact so many different players are having a hand in it.
“That’s what’s going on with our defense. Not one guy is standing out,” said D’Onofrio, whose unit came into this week ranked seventh in scoring defense, 10th in total defense, fourth in turnover margin and 10th in passing efficiency defense.
“You see 16 sacks, but you see  guys in on a sack. You see six interceptions, and five guys have interceptions. Seven caused fumbles, and seven guys caused the fumble. Seven guys recovered it. There’s a lot going on. You spread it around. That’s a sign guys are unselfish, trying to do their job in the defense.”
During D’Onofrio’s first two seasons, players were freelancing too often in attempt to make plays. That led to blown gap assignments and running lanes opening up.
That, of course, is what the Hurricanes can ill afford to do Saturday against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets flexbone option offense requires sound assignment football to stop it.
Sure, UM’s defense is much improved. But Georgia Tech’s attack (ranked 51st in total offense, 37th in scoring offense) is superior to any offense the Hurricanes have faced this season, as coach Al Golden pointed out Tuesday. Savannah State is an abysmal Football Championship Subdivision program; FAU ranks 109th in total offense and 104th in scoring; Florida ranks 70th in total offense and 91st in scoring; and South Florida ranks 120th in total offense and 118th in scoring.
The good news for UM: D’Onofrio and the Hurricanes have a strong track record in stopping coach Paul Johnson’s offense. Although UM gave up 287 yards and five TDs a year ago to Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), the Hurricanes (4-0, 0-0 ACC) have done the second-best job in the ACC’s Coastal Division slowing Georgia Tech’s running game down since D’Onofrio’s arrival. Only Virginia Tech (188-yard average) has done better than UM (210.5 yards allowed average). The Hokies are 3-0 against Georgia Tech over the past three seasons, including last week’s 17-10 win.
The magic number it seems is keeping Georgia Tech under 300 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets are 4-11 when they finish with less than 300 yards rushing since the start of the 2011 season and 14-2 when they eclipse the 300-yard mark.
“You always run scared. You never sit there and stop [working on it],” said D’Onofrio, who first faced the flexbone option when he was a graduate assistant at Georgia in 2000 when he had to breakdown more than 20 games worth of film of Johnson’s offense when he was at Georgia Southern.
D’Onofrio said the returning experience Miami has from last year’s win will help.
“Last year, the way we were banged up and where we were at — at that point — we really had an inexperienced group out there,” D’Onofrio said. “[Georgia Tech] had periods where they really did well, and we were susceptible to the big play. You definitely hope that the guys coming back, having played that and understanding the scheme and the type of things we want to get done [we are better against it]. We’ve continued to enhance what we want to do against these guys and have developed a package [for it] because we’ve got a group of older guys.”
This and that• Of UM’s 16 sacks this season, D’Onofrio said most have come because of added pressure where a fifth or six rusher came after the quarterback. D’Onofrio has said in the past he would prefer to only rush three or four linemen and get to the quarterback.
Who stood out on game film the most against USF? Backup middle linebacker Raphael Kirby, D’Onofrio said. “You go back and look at it. He showed up around the ball, and he was really physical,” D’Onofrio said. “He played with knee bend, base and you saw his explosion. You saw him really play fast.”• A week after looking “rusty” in his first game back from sports hernia surgery, safety Deon Bush had a sack and forced fumble against USF. Is Bush turning the corner?
“I think he is,” D’Onofrio said. “He didn’t get all those reps everybody else got during the summer or during training camp. It takes time to process it. But he’s moving in the right direction.”