University of Miami

Defense still a sore spot for Al Golden, Miami Hurricanes

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) is brought down by a host of Hurricane defenders in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) is brought down by a host of Hurricane defenders in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. AP

The University of Miami returned home from Lincoln, Nebraska, at close to 5 a.m. Sunday morning after a tough-to-stomach 41-31 loss to the Cornhuskers.

Coach Al Golden wasn’t at the school Sunday to answer questions in his usual day-after teleconference because of a family medical emergency, UM athletic director Blake James said. The Hurricanes also won’t be practicing Monday, but it was a predetermined day off the coach decided to give the team, a UM spokesman said.

One way or another, though, Golden, scheduled to make his weekly appearance on WQAM’s Joe Rose Show on Monday morning, has questions to answer again about his defense.

The Cornhuskers (4-0) ran through the Canes (2-2) for 343 yards rushing in Saturday’s loss — a pretty big step back for a defense that looked like it was beginning to turn the corner in Mark D’Onofrio’s fourth season as defensive coordinator.

The big night by Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah and his cohorts marked the fourth time since Golden and D’Onofrio came to town in 2011 Miami was shredded for more than 300 yards on the ground. That’s an astonishing statistic when you consider that from November 1998 to October 2008 — a span of 118 games — that happened just once to the Hurricanes, according to The Associated Press.

Late Saturday night inside the bowels of Memorial Stadium, Golden was asked by a reporter if it might be time to change UM’s defensive scheme.

Golden disagreed.

“We didn’t tackle well enough, we came up against a good back, and we turned the ball over three times,” he said. “Look, I don’t know what you want me to say? There’s no excuse for not tackling. There’s no excuse for not doing better on third down. But we are not giving up on the scheme.

“We’ve made a lot of progress so far this year. We didn’t play well enough [Saturday]. That’s it. Against a good team on the road, we turned the ball over three times and had a lot of selfish penalties.”

Golden said he sees progress, but most Miami fans disagree — and the statistics back them up. UM’s struggles stopping the run are nothing new. Opponents have rushed for 200 yards or more 15 times since Golden arrived.

Nebraska also became the sixth opponent in Golden’s 41-game tenure at UM to average at least 6 yards per carry in a game. According to AP, that happened only five times from 1999 to 2010 — a span of 151 games.

Duke (4-0), UM’s opponent Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, ranks 17th in scoring (43.5 points per game), 22nd in rushing (261 yards per game) and 30th in total offense (491.8). Blue Devils freshman running back Shaun Wilson has run for more than 400 yards and leads the nation with a 14.43-yards-per-carry average.

Last year, the Blue Devils rolled up 358 yards in a blowout win over the Hurricanes in Durham en route to winning the Coastal Division title.

Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe was asked Sunday if he thinks Duke can have a big day against UM again after seeing what Nebraska did to the Hurricanes.

“The key against any team as talented as Miami is execution,” he said. “I did watch a bit of the game last night and I think Nebraska is terrific up front on offense. They looked really good.

“That tailback [Abdullah] is special to say the least, and their quarterback is very talented.”

On the bright side for Miami, quarterback Brad Kaaya continued to show progress. Four games into his college career, the 19-year-old true freshman ranks 21st nationally in yardage (1,052) and 30th in passer rating (154.15). He has thrown 10 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and has a 62.4 completion percentage.

With reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston suspended Saturday against Clemson, N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett (69.7 completion percentage, 1,005 yards, 10 TDs, one interception) is the only quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference who has put up numbers as good as Kaaya has so far.

“There’s no question Brad is going to be a really good football player, a heck of a football player,” Golden told WQAM after the game. “The environment is not too big for him. I thought we did a heck of a job protecting him. We did a great job picking up their pressures, giving him time. I thought he answered the bell. I can’t imagine what kind of night he would have had if we didn’t turn it over three times.”

This and That

▪ Saturday marked the first time UM lost a game in which Duke Johnson had a rushing touchdown. The Canes are now 13-1 when he does. Johnson fumbled in the third quarter, and it was returned 57 yards for a touchdown.

He took the blame afterward. “[It was] me just thinking the play was over instead of me protecting the ball knees to the ground,” he said of the fumble. “That was just mishaps on my behalf.”

▪ The Hurricanes lost a Class of 2015 recruiting commitment on Sunday when three-star tight end Bo Archibald (6-6, 240) of Dade City Pasco High School switched his pledge to Wake Forest after the visiting the Demon Deacons over the weekend.

Miami Herald sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.

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