University of Miami

Look out! Here comes an avalanche of UM defenders to face no-huddle Syracuse

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz watches the game in the first half as the University of Miami hosts Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, October 14, 2017.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz watches the game in the first half as the University of Miami hosts Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, October 14, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Get ready for an avalanche of University of Miami defensive backs and linemen descending on the Hard Rock Stadium turf at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Syracuse – and that’s with already being at least five defensive backs down.

The eighth-ranked Hurricanes (5-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will face what Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz calls “the fastest offense in the country.’’

The no-huddle, lightning-paced Syracuse Orange (4-3, 2-1) is led by quarterback wiz Eric Dungey, a junior who has 2,080 passing yards, 386 rushing yards and ranks fifth nationally in completions per game (26.8), sixth in points responsible for (122) and seventh in total offense (352.3).

Syracuse, which slayed defending national champion Clemson last week, has run at least 90 plays on offense in three of its seven games, and more than 80 in another two.

The most plays a UM defense has faced this season was Duke’s 88.

Does Diaz think his defense is close to simulating Syracuse’s speed on offense?

“Oh, no,’’ he said Wednesday. “We can’t. There’s no way. It’s similar to Georgia Tech a week ago. We don’t have the personnel to be able to do it. As a football team we’re still thin at wideout and corner and DB, so we always have a hard time really simulating during the course of the week the other team’s best players.

“But that’s why we still do good-on-good against the offense to try to get live reps against the best guys the offense has.”

Diaz said everyone, including players who didn’t get action last week because they hadn’t mastered Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, will rotate in on Saturday.

With former starting cornerback Dee Delaney still sidelined Wednesday with a knee injury, that leaves, per the depth chart at cornerback, starter Malek Young, current starter Michael Jackson, freshman Trajan Bandy and junior-college transfer Jhavonte Dean.

At safety behind standout Jaquan Johnson is redshirt sophomore Robert Knowles, who got his first start last week against the Yellow Jackets because Sheldrick Redwine was out with an “upper extremity’’ injury.

Listed behind Redwine, who returned to practice this week, are sophomore Romeo Finley and freshman Amari Carter.

“I’ve said this before, in the secondary we don’t have what a major college football team should have – not competing for the things that we’re expected to compete for,’’ Diaz said. “We’re five to six defensive backs short. At every position you mark how many scholarships you have [and] we’re five short.

“…In the back end we’ve got to make due with what we have. That’s why this recruiting class is so important for us. That’s why the DBs that we’re on, we expect them all to have significant roles a year from now because there are so many jobs that guys are having to sort of plug multiple leaks.”

Johnson, second on the team with 34 tackles, said he believes the Canes “will keep up’’ with Syracuse. “We’re working hard, we’re conditioned, we’re doing plays up-tempo, fast, and not taking breaks.’’

Hurricanes linebacker Shaquille Quarterman speaks to the media after the University of Miami defeats Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

▪ UM freshman receiver Evidence Njoku, the younger brother of former UM first-round NFL draft pick David Njoku, sustained a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday after media viewing. UM announced that it was a “lower-right extremity injury.’’ The 6-6, 196-pound Njoku, who has not played this season, was expected to redshirt. He will have four seasons of eligibility remaining.

▪ Coach Mark Richt revealed Wednesday that receiver Lawrence Cager is battling through a sore knee, though he didn’t indicate which one. The 6-5, 218-pound redshirt sophomore is back this season after sitting out last year because of an ACL tear sustained before the start of training camp.

“He had a great practice prior to Florida State,’’ Richt said Wednesday. “I know he jacked his knee up a little. He’s playing, but it’s sore and it’s bothering him. But he’s still fighting through it, so I think that’s probably his biggest issue now, fighting through a little bit of pain.”

Cager has played in all five games and has eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.

▪ Guard Navaughn Donaldson is still out with a sprained right ankle, and linebacker Michael Pinckney, who injured his chest in the second quarter against Georgia Tech, was wearing a green, no-contact jersey again Wednesday at practice.

▪ Richt was selected to the 20-member Paul “Bear’’ Bryant Coach of the Year Watch List on Wednesday. He has led Miami to its best start since 2013 and has guided the Canes to a 3-0 ACC mark for just the fourth time since Miami joined the league in 2004.

Richt is 14-4 since becoming UM’s head coach in December 2015.

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