For seven games this season, Mark D’Onofrio got a reprieve.
It must have been nice while it lasted.
Since giving up a combined 83 points in back-to-back losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes defensive coordinator again has become Enemy No. 1 among the most vocal UM fans who are complaining on talk radio shows and tweeting their disdain in 140 characters or less — at least per entry.
D’Onofrio was asked this week how he deals with the noise.
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“I really can’t,’’ said D’Onofrio, intent on preparing the Canes (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) for next opponent Duke (7-2, 3-2). “At the end of the day, we’ve just got to worry about what’s going on here. We have good kids. We have kids who want to improve, that are not happy with their performance and we have to help them.’’
UM’s defense has allowed 1,066 yards of offense the past two weeks, and at least 500 yards in three of the past four games and eight of the past 21.
The Hurricanes allowed their first six opponents this season to convert an average of only 28.3 percent of their third-down opportunities. Their past three opponents have turned 60 percent of their third downs into first downs.
D’Onofrio said the tackling percentage Saturday was the lowest it has been all year — “I’m talking about really playing hard; arm violence to the ball’’ — and that the Hurricanes “didn’t affect the ball’’ by breaking up passes, “causing an altered throw’’ or causing a turnover.
Miami did cause two fumbles, but both were recovered by Tech.
What’s especially frustrating, according to coaches, is that they had a very good week of practice heading into last Saturday. Many of the players, D’Onofrio said, do it the right way, and coaches even showed film clips of them excelling in practice.
“Some of the guys that were affected haven’t played in games of that magnitude,’’ he said. “We have to help them deal with the ups and downs and ebbs and flows and put the last play behind them.’’
D’Onofrio and coach Al Golden said the secondary played more man-to-man coverage Saturday than it has all season.
“There were some situations they were in tight sets or bunch sets that we work on all the time, that we have rules for and that we practice, and it just didn’t happen.’’
What was the collective attitude for Monday’s first day of practice?
“It’s always hard,’’ D’Onofrio said. “You have to watch it over and over again. You talk about it. It’s never, ‘Why did you do this?’ It’s, ‘Look, this hurt us, and this is when you executed it well.’ We’ve got to strive for more consistency.’’
His players have staunchly defended D’Onofrio, saying the onus is on them to perform what he teaches.
“He knows the game in and out,’’ cornerback Tracy Howard said. “He’s taught me a lot. I get mad, because if anything, he calls great games. To be honest, the fans should be more loyal. When we were 7-0, they were all happy. Now they want him out on his back.
“That’s the way football goes. I understand. But I feel like they’re being too hard.’’
Safety A.J. Highsmith, the son of a former UM and NFL player, and the grandson of a former coach, said the problem lies not with the schemes or calls by D’Onofrio, but with players lapsing in focus and not executing.
“Coach D’Onofrio is as good a coordinator as I’ve known,’’ Highsmith said. “He studies more than anybody I’ve seen. He understands offenses. He puts us in very good situations. We have to do a better job of having his back.’’
Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro contributed to this report.