Al Golden said it on the first day of fall camp: “We need to get off the field on defense and we need to convert better on offense.”
That’s how he said he would be able to measure progress.
Miami’s defense showed signs of it Monday night. It forced two turnovers inside Louisville’s own 20, produced a handful of sacks, and aside from an early 93-yard scoring drive in the first quarter, Mark D’Onofrio’s group held its own against offensive guru Bobby Petrino.
They just weren’t strong enough to make up for a rough night for the offensive line, a sputtering running game and the first game under center for true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya. It all added up to a 31-13 loss to the Cardinals in front of a record 55,428 fans at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
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Miami’s offense simply couldn’t hold onto the football. Before it mounted a meaningless drive while down 18 points in the fourth quarter, UM went three-and-out six times, turned it over inside the Louisville 20 once and finished 1 for 11 on third-down conversions.
The Canes held onto the ball for only 26 minutes 43 seconds — only 45 seconds longer than their season average from a year ago (it ranked 120th).
That wasn’t what Golden wanted to see.
In last year’s 36-9 Russell Athletic Bowl loss to the Cardinals, Miami was held to a season-low 174 yards and nine points without Duke Johnson.
On Monday, with Johnson playing in his first game since breaking his ankle in a loss to Florida State, Miami was held to just 12 first downs and 70 yards on the ground.
Johnson tried his best. He had 20 carries for 90 yards and had a catch for 5 yards.
But he didn’t get much help from the guys in front of him. Miami’s offensive line — left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Jonathan Feliciano, center Shane McDermott, right guard Danny Isidora and right tackle Taylor Gadbois — played the entire game against Louisville’s new 3-4 scheme.
Kaaya was sacked twice and hurried six times. And Johnson usually didn’t have much room to work. UM was tackled for losses in the backfield seven times.
On one carry in the second quarter, McDermott missed his assignment and Johnson was hit in the backfield, but he bounced off the tackler, ran toward the sideline and picked up 5 yards and a horse-collar penalty on Louisville’s defense.
On the next play, Johnson ripped off his longest run of the night — a 24-yard run to the Cardinals’ 45-yard line. It led to a field goal and a 10-7 Miami lead.
But that was short-lived — the lead and the running game.
Trailing 24-13 in the fourth quarter, Johnson reeled off back-to-back runs of 11 and 21 yards to the Louisville 39-yard line. On the next play, Johnson caught a wheel route for a 36-yard gain all the way down to the Louisville 3-yard line.
But the play was negated when Isidora was flagged as an ineligible receiver downfield.
• Walk-on punter Justin Vogel averaged 46.8 yards per punt in his debut, including a pair of punts that went inside the 10-yard line in the first quarter.