University of Miami

Miami’s ‘weird’ defense ready for Georgia Tech’s triple option

University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on negative plays

University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz speaks to the media after practice at Greentree Practice Field at the University of Miami on Wednesday, October 3, 2018.
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University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz speaks to the media after practice at Greentree Practice Field at the University of Miami on Wednesday, October 3, 2018.

By now, most seniors with the Miami Hurricanes are used to the unusual challenge the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets present. Preparing to defend Georgia Tech’s triple option can be a year-round task and, for players who have spent four seasons in Coral Gables, it has become the product of years of discipline.

It’s not something coaches install all at once. Any time there’s a moment to work, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz finds time to work.

“Coach [Manny] Diaz is always on Georgia Tech,” defensive tackle Gerald Willis said Tuesday. “Every little break we get, he takes advantage of it and we run their plays.”

This season, solving the Yellow Jackets’ spread option is an important step to just keeping the Hurricanes’ preseason goals alive. Miami (5-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) still hasn’t qualified for a bowl game and is just barely hanging on to contention in the Coastal Division. With only three games remaining, the Hurricanes are running out of chances to even reach a postseason game. In many ways, Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3) presents Miami’s best chance at a sixth win because the Hurricanes are well-equipped to handle the Yellow Jackets.

“Our guys are kind of weird. We like playing against this. ” Diaz said after practice Tuesday at Greentree Practice Field. “I think this is a great offense to scheme against. Our guys like playing against these guys.”

With an offense scuffling worse than it has at any point in nearly a decade, Miami is relying more heavily on its defense than ever. Georgia Tech can chew clock unlike any other team from a Power 5 Conference, so the Hurricanes will have to be close to perfect to even give its offense a chance at the sort of possession count it needs to potentially win. On Saturday at 7 p.m. in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets might get the ball for the first time and it might be almost 10 minutes of game time until Miami gets its first crack on offense.

At his weekly news conference Tuesday, UM coach Mark Richt singled out one of those long game-opening drives Georgia Tech can pull off. Against the Clemson Tigers in September, the Yellow Jackets began their first drive of the game at their own 25-yard line and didn’t give the ball back to Clemson until 7:14 remained in the first quarter.

Georgia Tech finished the drive with a punt. It could have gone longer.

“I don’t count the total possessions, but, at that rate, it’s going to be four or five per half,” Richt said after noting the Tigers’ third possession began with about 10 minutes left in the half. “It is tough on offense to be sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting for an opportunity if it holds true to form, but our defense has played well against them in the past, and I have a lot of faith and confidence in this week. Bottom line is the best way to beat them is somehow to get turnovers and get them behind the sticks a little bit.”

The Hurricanes haven’t had too much trouble with Georgia Tech’s offense in recent years. Miami has won three in a row against the Yellow Jackets and held Georgia Tech to 24 points or fewer in each game of the streak.

The Hurricanes’ personnel is well-suited to do so again. With two likely early-round draft picks on the defensive line, Miami leads the nation in tackles for loss. The Hurricanes have a handful of future professionals in their linebackers corps and a group of capable tacklers in the secondary. Defensive linemen such as Willis and defensive end Joe Jackson can disrupt the Yellow Jackets at the point of attack, and trust some of the team’s leading tacklers such as linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and defensive back Jaquan Johnson to stuff Georgia Tech at the next level or hunt down the Yellow Jackets if a run stretches outside.

Beating the Yellow Jackets isn’t just an whole-year effort. It’s an a whole-team effort, too.

“I’m not a corner,” defensive back Michael Jackson said Tuesday. “It’s as simple as that. I’m not a corner. I’m a football player.

“They’re going to test you and see if you can tackle. They’re going to try to see if you’re scared to get cut. No matter if you got cut 10 plays in a row, you still got to come up and be physical as possible on that 11th play because that play might change the game.”