They crunch a bunch, and they say it feels good every time.
With an extraordinarily young defense – five true freshmen started last week at Virginia – the Miami Hurricanes are No. 1 of 128 teams ranked nationally with 90 tackles for loss, tied with Texas A&M and just ahead of Michigan and Clemson.
Pretty impressive considering they finished 105th last year in the same category.
“That’s one of the goals we strived for,’’ freshman defensive end Joe Jackson said Wednesday. “We’re trying to finish strong and hopefully we can stay No. 1 in the nation.’’
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The Canes (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who meet North Carolina State (5-5, 2-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Raleigh, had nine tackles for loss and five sacks last Saturday. In the second half, they recovered four fumbles.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the big hits behind the line of scrimmage are “drive killers’’ and lead to more big hits, and ultimately turnovers.
“So, we’re always trying to hunt the negative play and get people behind the chains where we have a chance to get off the field,’’ Diaz said. “Certainly, it’s demoralizing to an offense when they see a defense celebrating in their backfield. Conversely, it’s what we’re hunting, and that’s never a one-man thing.’’
UM is now tied for 17th nationally in sacks with 29 and 22nd in fumbles recovered with nine.
It’s contagious, Diaz acknowledged.
“We actually showed on tape that there were three great strip attempts we had in the game [in which] the ball did not come out,’’ he said. “We knew that they had some guys who carried the ball loosely. And so it was great to show that, ‘Hey, look, we didn’t get it on play 28, we didn’t get it on play 33, and then lo and behold on play 45 it went. And then once it came it sort of came in bunches.”
Jackson leads Miami with 4.5 sacks. Chad Thomas, who has four sacks, leads the Canes with 10 tackles for loss. But many have joined in the fun, as a dozen players have both TFLs and sacks.
“It helps the team with confidence and lets us know that we’re doing something right every game when we’re out there – like stopping the run or getting sacks,’’ Jackson said.
Diaz’s crew will have a challenge Saturday. The Wolfpack has only allowed 16 sacks this season are tied for 30th in the country with 14 fumbles lost.
“It’s the battle of the game of trying to be the one who dictates to the other,’’ he said. “Offenses are trying to do the same thing with creating explosive plays. Those are our explosive plays.”
Freshman reserve safety Cedrick Wright has been suspended for the North Carolina State game, UM announced Wednesday afternoon in a written statement.
The school did not specify why he was suspended.
Wright, a 5-9, 180-pound former three- and four-star recruit from Homestead and Miami Gulliver Prep, played mostly on special teams this season. He has participated in nine games, including last week at Virginia, and has six tackles.
Wright is friends with former UM receiver Sam Bruce, who was dismissed from the team last month. Wright and freshman tight end Jovani Haskins were with Bruce in a parked car near campus when Bruce was charged with marijuana possession. Wright and Haskins were not charged.