A six-pack of Canes notes on a Thursday:
• Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has an interesting theory for why UM has responded well this season when trailing in games.
“Has this not been a crazy two months?” Diaz said on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline this week.
“Your season kind of stops [with Hurricane Irma, which caused UM to go 21 days without playing] and we spend a week [practicing] in Orlando, and the Toledo game we’re physically not even ready to play [off a long layoff]. Florida State week you have to drive an hour and half to go to the Dolphins bubble [to practice because of rain]. This has not been a normal year under any circumstances.
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“This has built a little backbone into this team. At halftime, we’re figuring out how to win the game as opposed to worried or panicked that we’re not.”
UM ranks 46th in the country in yards allowed per game (363) but 20th best in points permitted per game (18.6) among 130 FBS programs. They’re also third in tackles for loss per game and fifth in sacks per game.
“We’re miles away from a complete defensive performance,” Diaz told WQAM. “But we are not giving up many points, which is the whole key. What we do still, what we established last year and this year, is we don’t give up long touchdowns. We’ve given up only one all season, on a bust against Toledo.
“And we’re excellent in the red zone. We’re 10th in the country in red zone percentage [defensively]. And there are only two ways to score, right? From far way or in close.”
Diaz said in going from playing Georgia Tech to Syracuse, “you went from the slowest, most methodical offense in the country to the fastest. We have to make them one dimensional. They still run it more than you think.”
• What defensive players have stood out recently but haven’t gotten the recognition?
From the Georgia Tech game, cornerback Michael Jackson, Diaz said.
“The pass breakup [late] was enormous,” Diaz said. “The way he defended our perimeter, he was phenomenal.”
Diaz also mentioned defensive tackle Kendrick Norton: “He dominated the middle of their formations. They couldn’t block him one on one.
“[Linebacker] Charles Perry did a nice job. [Linebacker] Zach McCloud played really well in the second half. Got to mention [linebacker] Mike Smith” too.
• By the way, coaches can’t stop stop raving about safety Jaquan Johnson.
“Great open field tackler,” Mark Richt said.
Diaz loves how he has come on: “Jaquan Johnson, the last few weeks against Florida State and against Georgia Tech, the guy has been a heat seeking missile, a tackling machine. He’s playing that rover safety that Jamal Carter played a year ago. His toughness was really felt from sideline to sideline [the past two weeks]. It’s been fun to see him. When you lose four guys that are in pro camps in the secondary, you look around and say, ‘I’m the most experienced guy we have back here. I’ve got to be the leader.’”
• Regarding the emergence of Darrell Langham – who went from buried on the depth chart to making game-saving plays the past two weeks – receivers coach Ron Dugans said on WQAM: “When I arrived [in January 2016], I told him I will always have confidence in you. But you’ve got to have confidence in yourself.
“I said I will never give up on you. [Kids] want to know that they care about you. I wanted to give Langham the confidence. You beat a kid down so long, he has no confidence in himself. Beat him down a little bit but at the same time, show him that I love him also.”
Dugans said this past August, Langham “would be the first one to meetings. He translated it over to the field. Not very consistent at times. But he kept fighting. I was excited for the kid, snatching two big balls for us” the past two weeks.
• Richt second-guessed himself for not using Langham on at least one red zone play earlier in the game – something ESPN announcers also questioned.
“We needed Big Langham,” Richt said on Hurricane Hotline. “I ran the cheetah [a package for smaller receivers such as Mike Harley and Braxton Berrios]. We ran a play Berrios hadn’t run” and it nearly resulted in an interception off a deflection.
Here’s my Thursday six-pack of Dolphins notes, including perspective on their astounding lack of big plays. Here’s a look at how a guy who hikes with mountain gorillas has helped orchestrate the Dolphins’ defensive turnaround.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz