University of Miami

At ‘The U,’ the hot topic is quarterbacks. But the hot unit is the Hurricanes defense

University of Miami middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman talks about Hurricanes’ defense

Miami Hurricanes middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman talks about the Canes' defense on Tues., Sept. 25, 2018.
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Miami Hurricanes middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman talks about the Canes' defense on Tues., Sept. 25, 2018.

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While Hurricanes fans emote over who they want as starting quarterback for Thursday night’s nationally televised home game against North Carolina (1-2), the Miami defense continues to rack up impressive numbers in becoming one of the top defenses in the nation.

Though the No. 16 Canes (3-1) have faced one Power 5 team (No. 5 LSU) in their first four games, their defense — except for sporadic slip-ups with young reserves — has been smothering.

UM is ranked first nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 11.5 a game.

The Canes are ranked first nationally in third-down defensive conversion percentage, allowing only 10 conversions in 57 attempts for an 85.5-percent success rate.

The Canes’ 46 first downs allowed on defense are fourth-fewest nationwide.

UM ranks second behind Utah in total defense (223.8 yards a game allowed) — fifth best in rushing defense (78.8 yards) and sixth best in passing yards allowed (145).

Individually, senior defensive tackle Gerald Willis is tied for first in the nation (with Colin Schooler of Arizona) with 10 tackles for loss, while sophomore defensive end Jonathan Garvin is tied for fourth nationally with 8.5.

“We want the whole nation to know that you can’t run the ball on us,’’ Willis said. “We set our standards higher from last year.’’

UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was asked this week if his first-team unit is playing better than last year’s first-team unit.

“My coach instinct says it’s too early in the season to compare,’’ Diaz said, “but in terms of, ‘Have they done what we’ve asked them to do?’ more often than not the answer has been absolutely yes.

“We are showing more dominance than we did a year ago, because our run defense did not start off great last year, and now we’re much better this year on third down. The number of snaps we’re playing on defense compared to last year is just amazing.’’

The past two games, for example, the Canes have allowed only 59 plays to Toledo and 52 to FIU. UM’s offense in those games: 76 plays at Toledo and 78 against FIU.

UNC, offensively, is 80th in total offense (394 yards a game) and 101st in scoring (24.7 points). The Tar Heels’ third-down conversion percentage is tied for 109th (33.3 percent success).

“The plan is to get better every year,’’ said middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman. “We had a lot of guys leave, but we had a lot of guys step up. And with great coaching and guys really taking heed to what the coaches are saying, we have gotten better than we were last year.’’

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