Some things can get lost in a game where 89 points are scored, but one play in the UM football team’s 55-34 track-meet win against Cincinnati last week that showed progress defensively was Tyriq McCord’s 46-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second half.
McCord, a 6-3, 248-pound junior rush end/linebacker dropped back into coverage as the defense rushed three, and after a pass to the outside ricocheted up in the air off a diving Bearcats receiver, McCord snagged it and took it up the sideline, escorted into the end zone by a series of well-executed blocks.
It marked the first touchdown the Canes defense — much-maligned by fans — has scored in seven games this season (4-3, 1-2 ACC).
It was also McCord’s first defensive touchdown — ever. He says that while he’s scored in high school as a wide receiver or tight end, he’s never scored defensively — even going back to peewee ball.
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At Saturday’s practice that wrapped up Miami’s bye week before a Thursday night affair with Virginia Tech, McCord ranked the play higher than the strip-sack and fumble recovery in the fourth quarter against Florida last season.
“Not too many D-linemen or linebackers say that they scored a touchdown in collegiate football,” said McCord, who also had two interceptions as a sophomore last season. “You can get a lot of people to say they got the sack-caused fumble, but scoring a pick six? That’s amazing.
“When I got to the end zone, it was just crazy. I don’t know what was going on through my head. I didn’t know what to do. It was a great feeling. I really want to see the end zone again.”
McCord is a critical component of defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s defense because of his versatility.
“Tyriq’s smart, and he’s got flexibility. He’s got the ability to drop; he’s got the ability to rush,” D’Onofrio said.
Being able to play linebacker in the 3-4 and end in the 4-3, McCord says he’s standing up about 75 percent of the time and has his hand in the ground the other 25.
Defense 7th in yards per play
While fans continue to call out D’Onofrio after Cincinnati scored 34 points against the Canes —27 of which can be attributed to the defense — D’Onofrio noted that while the starters were in, Miami was holding the Bearcats to 13 points and under four yards per play.
Relative to opponents’ averages, the Canes are actually faring well defensively.
The Canes’ six FBS opponents this season are averaging 442.9 yards of total offense entering Saturday. Miami’s average total defense in those six games: 362.9.
UM currently ranks seventh in the nation in yards per play defensively at 4.46. The key is the number of plays the defense has had to withstand on the field (514).
“When you play that many snaps, it’s hard to be perfect,” D’Onofrio says.
The UM offense can be held just as accountable with its inability to stay on the field. The offense converts 24.7 percent of third downs, which ranks 123rd out of 125 FBS schools. Converting those third downs will be pivotal against the Hokies, which own the fourth-best third-down defense.
Said cornerback Tracy Howard: “When we’re winning, nobody’s really complaining. We played Florida last year and we ran the same defense.
“It’s not like we run a defense that nobody else runs. It’s not like we’re out there calling a coverage called ‘Hula-Hoop’ that nobody’s ever heard of. We run post coverage, Cover 3, Cover 2, Cover 1, pressure.”
Williams stays positive
Fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Williams is keeping his head high this season. The projected starter in the spring, who tore his ACL in April, has been relegated to third-string duties since recovering.
“I’m just staying positive, trying to support Brad [Kaaya], making sure I’m always focused and ready for my opportunity in case it comes,” Williams said. “If I don’t get my opportunity, then I’m just going to go into the offseason and make sure I’m ready.”
The insertion of Williams into the Cincinnati game — where he threw one pass that was dropped by Herb Waters — burned any possibility of a redshirt, but coach Al Golden told reporters a medical hardship was never in consideration as Williams wouldn’t have qualified.
“I never really got the details. I was just told I wouldn’t be able to get one,” said Williams, who found out when the injury initially happened. “I guess I didn’t get hurt enough.”
Williams also says transferring never crossed his mind at any point.
Golden said at Saturday’s practice that offensive tackle Taylor Gadbois’ knee injury “looks like it’s going to be season-ending.”
Kicker Matt Goudis (back), who hasn’t played since Week 2 against Florida A&M, and long snapper Ronald Regula (knee) will also have their seasons end with surgeries scheduled for Monday. Frank Gabriel will take over long-snapping duties.