If the University of Miami defense isn’t boiling with frustration by now, it must be simmering in anticipation.
The nation’s No. 1 defense, which held Virginia to 231 total yards and 16 points and had three interceptions in last weekend’s loss, is still playing its heart out and succeeding.
“I was just telling those guys to give everything they had, keep playing, forget about the mistakes they made. ‘The defense, we have your back,’’’ star safety Jaquan Johnson said he told struggling quarterbacks Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry on Saturday. “’We’re going to play every play like it’s our last. You guys do the same for us.’’’
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The Canes lead the country in total defense out of 129 FBS teams, allowing only 236 yards a game. They’re No. 1 in tackles for loss, No. 1 in third-down conversion defense, No. 2 in passing yards allowed, No. 3 in turnovers gained, No. 5 in team sacks, No. 5 in defensive touchdowns, No. 5 in interceptions and No. 11 in rushing defense.
But defensive leaders Johnson and linebacker Shaq Quarterman refuse to give up or give in to what ails the Canes: a substandard passing offense ranked 90th in the nation and statistically mediocre rushing offense (49th) that are both hurt by a continually struggling offensive line and what many believe is stale play-calling.
“As a defense we control what we can control,’’ Quarterman said after the game. “It doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback. The Miami defense is out there regardless. The points that we gave up were just honestly too much to begin with. They shouldn’t have scored. They shouldn’t have done any of that. So, it doesn’t matter...’’
Johnson acknowledged this open week will be painful as the unranked Hurricanes (5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepare for another nationally televised road game Friday, Oct. 26, at Boston College (5-2, 2-1).
“Definitely a tough one to sit on,’’ Johnson said, adding, however, that it’s “probably a blessing... we don’t get to go right back into battle. I think the wait has awoken us even more. We haven’t lost since LSU. This is a reminder: Don’t ever forget that feeling.
“Losing is terrible. It’s a bad feeling...”
Quarterman told the entire team to own the loss and to “look in the mirror and say, ‘What could I have done better to put the team in a better position?’
“I agree with Jaquan,’’ Quartertman said. “It definitely sucks to lose anymore. I think going into this bye week with it is going to stick with us. We have to walk on campus. We have to walk in Miami. We have to own it.”
The Canes are not perfect defensively, at least on special teams, allowing opponents to start drives with favorable field position. They rank 114th in kickoff return defense, allowing 14.2 yards a return; 121st in punt return defense, last in the ACC by allowing 17.4 yards a return. Their net punting (31.1 yards a punt) ranks 126th.
And had Miami defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo not shoved a Virginia player after the Canes had stopped Virginia on third-and-3 from the UM 20-yard line with about two-and-a-half minutes left in the game, thereby drawing a personal foul that gave the Cavaliers a first down from the UM 9, Miami would have had a decent shot to drive down the field for at least a game-tying field goal.
“Just foolish,’’ UM coach Mark Richt told WQAM on Monday about the penalty. “You can’t do that. He knows it. He was sick about it. We can’t lose our composure no matter what the circumstance.”
Quarterman said he told Odenigbo after the defeat that he loved him and there was “a lot of ball left to play.’’
“We’re going to own the loss but we’re not going to sulk in the loss,’’ Quarterman said. “We’re not going to hang our heads low. We’re going to come in, watch the film, see the corrections we have to make and just move forward.”
Added Johnson: “It was just the wrong moment, wrong time to make a mistake like that. I told Tito to keep his head up. In the locker room I just reassured him, ‘On to the next one. Be ready for it.’”