University of Miami

UM’s Manny Diaz: ‘Our kids aren’t perfect, but they’re playing pretty damn good...’

University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz looks over the field as the Hurricanes hold practice at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World in 2017.
University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz looks over the field as the Hurricanes hold practice at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World in 2017. Reinhold Matay

On Tuesday it was offensive coordinator Thomas Brown telling it like it is.

On Wednesday it was defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who is preparing the defense of the No. 9 Canes (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to face No. 13 Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) at 8 p.m. Saturday

Diaz’s run defense is now ranked 82nd in the country with 179 ground yards allowed a game.

His total defense is ranked 52nd nationally, allowing 377 yards a game.

But how about this?

▪ No. 12 nationally in passes intercepted.

▪ No. 36 in passing yards allowed.

▪ Fourth in sacks.

▪ Third in tackles for loss.

And the bottom line: 20th in scoring defense, holding teams to 18.7 points a game.

“Toledo is the only team that’s had more than five yards a play on us,’’ Diaz said. “We had 17 possessions of defense last week and in a normal game there are 13. We played five quarters of football. We three-and-outed them or less eight out of 17 times. Our kids aren’t perfect, but they’re playing pretty damn good by all the metrics.

“There are a couple of things that we would love to do better. Our third down defense started poorly and it’s been improving. Our run defense is suffering from a couple mistakes. People are starting to run their quarterback against us, which to me is a sign of respect that we are shutting down their running back.

“Look at where we are and what we are doing and the fact that what it all comes down to is that we’re not allowing points because we don’t give up long runs or passes for touchdowns,’’ he said, “and then we have the mental toughness to stop people in the red zone. We never panic.

“That’s why when the ball was fumbled last week and 11 guys have to take the field, we knew we were going to get the ball back. We didn’t know how and we didn’t know who, but we knew we were going to get it done. Like anything else, we always have room to grow. We hope that our best game is always our next game.

“I think our kids are playing pretty hard right now.”

What does Diaz expect from Virginia Tech on Saturday?

The Hokies are 32nd nationally in total offense (446.5 yards a game), 51st in rushing offense (180) and 38th in passing (266.5).

In scoring? 29th, averaging 35 points a game.

The Hokies’ running game, Diaz said, “is where it begins with them.’’

“You have to match the tempo,’’ he said. “You’ve got to match all the motions. You’ve got to match all the eye deception, a lot of misdirection in their offense. It’s almost similar to a Georgia Tech in theory where if you get so geared up in the run and your eyes got to the wrong place, that’s where they hit you in the passing game.

“If you look at their yards per-pass attempt, they’re one of the top teams in the country. When they’re attempting passes, they’re getting them in chunks. It’s a game where everybody has to be where they’re supposed to be and have their eyes dialed in to the right spots.”

Diaz said there is one thing his defense is “excellent at,’’ and that’s “winning.’’

“The strange dynamic of this year with missing a game and spending a week in Orlando, I think this team was forced into some resiliency. I think that’s why we play well in the red zone and I think that’s something that’s engrained in us now where there is not panic and guys just want to go out there and just do their job and persevere,’’ he said.

“There is one thing that we’re excellent at. We’re excellent at winning and we’re playing a team that is excellent at winning, as well.

“I don’t mean to make light of that. Some teams are good at losing, and we’ve not been good at losing. The things it takes to win a football game, we’ve been good at creating those things.”

Related stories from Miami Herald