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Hurricanes looking to solve woes of their defense

Miami nose tackle Dequan Ivery entered his first college football game with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame at a sold-out Soldier Field.

“It was like, ‘Dang, man!’ ” Ivery said. “I’m getting in the game kind of late and we’re losing and they have the fans on their side and everyone was just down on us. It was kind of a shocker — lots of pressure.”

He wasn’t the only one shocked. The 41 points scored against the Hurricanes in a televised night game piled on more misery to a defense already looking for answers.

“Today, everybody was still kind of down,” Ivery conceded Monday afternoon, hours after the Canes practiced in tight quarters indoors — offense in the Wellness Center, defense in the volleyball gym — because of lightning. “We just have to pick it up and deal with it.”

After allowing a total of 1,670 yards the past three games, the Hurricanes (4-2, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will face a North Carolina team (4-2, 1-1) averaging 44 points and nearly 500 yards a game.

“It has been arduous,” coach Al Golden said of UM’s defensive struggles. “It has been tough. In the end, the defense was on the field too long [39 minutes 8 seconds], we didn’t convert enough third downs on offense and obviously did not score, so we could never put pressure on them.”

The coach was asked if it is because of a lack of talent.

“Just look at the roster,” Golden replied. “ I get the depth charts every week, and I don’t see anybody that’s doing what we’re doing. I see teams that have fifth-year seniors, seniors and juniors riddled all over the depth chart, and we’re playing with 20 freshmen or sophomores now. When you turn on the tape you don’t see guys not hitting. Eddie Johnson is being physical; Denzel [Perryman] is being physical; Deon Bush is being physical.

“We’re just not where we need to be. It’s a perfect storm of strength, experience, of execution, and we have to keep pounding away every day.”

Safety A.J. Highsmith called his drop of what should have been an interception on third down from the Notre Dame 16-yard-line, “a missed opportunity.” The Irish went on to score their first touchdown.

“I don’t think it was nerves,’’ Highsmith said. “Initially I let it go, but then afterward you sit and think, ‘What could have been different?’ I know that could have been a big turning point. But I can’t do anything to change it now, so you have to move forward and make better opportunities for yourself in the future.”

Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio insisted his players didn’t give up, as Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood more than hinted after the game, telling that the Hurricanes were “upbeat” and “jumping” around at the start of the game, but that “when you smack a team so many times in the mouth, eventually they’re going to want to stop playing, and that’s what happened.”

Said D’Onofrio: “I don’t think that’s the case. When you talk about the end of the game you’re talking about guys like [freshman linebacker] Raphael Kirby and Dequan Ivery in there. Those guys were playing their first football game. The guys played hard.”

After the game, middle linebacker Perryman said the game plan was “right.”

It “was the execution,” he said, that was wrong. “All it comes down to is guys doing their job.’’

D’Onofrio pointed to the defensive backs having to take responsibility as well as the “front seven or front eight” and that seven players have competed “between nose and tackle” and there’s no one dominating.

How does he stay positive?

“Well, we’re 4-2 and 3-0 in the ACC so that keeps me positive,” he said. “We have a month here at home where we have an opportunity to get better. I throw the numbers out, but I’m not sure anybody realizes when you talk about playing 26 or 28 guys in a game ... and 20 of them are first- or second-year players the commitment that takes not only in the short-term but long-term.

“We’re trying to build something.”

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