University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes come to the defense of Mark D’Onofrio

UM Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.
UM Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Unhappy fans and former players may be pushing to create a divorce between the Miami Hurricanes and Mark D’Onofrio, but it’s become apparent in the days since the loss at Nebraska nobody inside UM’s defensive meeting room is ready for a breakup — at least not publicly.

Like one unified chorus, D’Onofrio and his players echoed coach Al Golden’s sentiments from over the weekend. Those who spoke to the media following Tuesday morning’s practice said it’s not the scheme or play-calling that led to the the Cornhuskers shredding Miami for 343 rushing yards.

The breakdowns happened — they say — in the execution of it.

“It comes down to execution and trust in your training,” D’Onofrio said. “I can promise you that every call that we make is designed to have somebody make a tackle, behind or at the line of scrimmage. I can promise you everyone of them is designed to do that. We wouldn’t want to change that if that was the design. We’ve got to get the players to execute better.”

And that’s something the Hurricanes (2-2) will focus on in the days leading up to Saturday night’s showdown with defending Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division Champion Duke (4-0) at Sun life Stadium. Last year, the Blue Devils became the third team to rush for at least 300 yards against a D’Onofrio-coached UM defense — and they have a read-option attack very similar to what Nebraska runs.

Despite complaints from fans and former players that UM lined safeties and linebackers too far from the line of scrimmage, D’Onofrio, like Golden before him, said he called run blitzes and pressures about 60 percent of the time at Nebraska.

In the end, UM netted no tackles for loss against the Cornhuskers, who became the fourth team to run for at least 300 yards against Miami since Golden took over in 2011.

Too many mistakes

D’Onofrio said Tuesday there were too many missed tackles to count at Nebraska and “yards after contact were a big issue.”

“As far as philosophically, we go into a game knowing what we want to stop, and you have to have a free player to stop the guy who has the ball,” he said. “That’s not going to change. So, as long as that’s sound — we’ve got to continue to work through the execution.”

D’Onofrio insists the players understand the scheme he’s been teaching them, and is “positive” players would say they are “getting coached hard” and with great detail.

“I think if you talk to our players right now and you said, ‘Hey do you know what you need to do in the scheme? Are you seeing what you need to see?’ I think they would tell you ‘Yes,’” D’Onofrio said. “But again, I have to get them to execute that.”

Asked why the team can’t win big games with the amount of talent it has on defense, D’Onofrio responded: “At the end of the day, talent is not enough.”

“Execution is what you need to have,” he continued. “I’ve been talking about that here for a long time. You have to execute. If you don’t have a guy in his gap, it doesn’t matter how talented he is. The gap’s open and somebody runs through it. That has nothing to do with talent.”

Linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive end Anthony Chickillo both defended D’Onofrio’s schemes and said it’s up to the players to execute what he calls.

“Coach D is one of the best football minds I’ve been around,” Chickillo said. “He probably is the best football mind. His football IQ is unbelievable, and he puts us in the right position to make plays. People just have to make them.”

Said Perryman: “It’s not coach, man. I ain’t going to lie. I try to ignore the outside noise, but when I hear stuff like that it bothers me a lot. It’s not coach, you know. Coach D’Onofrio does a great job putting us in the best [positions] and the best situations where we need to be. It’s just up to us to execute. We had a lot of freelancing going on.”

Devilish problem

Perryman said freelancing was a big problem last year against Duke, which has won 12 consecutive regular-season games and is one of just seven teams averaging 230 yards passing and 260 yards rushing.

The Blue Devils, led by quarterback Anthony Boone (14-2 as a starter), have turned the ball over just twice this season. Boone and redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk rotate and cause headaches as a tandem.

“Last year is last year, but at the same time we can’t forget about last year,” Perryman said. “For me, I know it serves as motivation and I know for a lot of other guys it’s the same thing.”

D’Onofrio said what Duke does offensively is something Miami has seen for a number of weeks. Success against it is simply going to come down the word of the week — execution.

“It’s the same assignment [as last year],” Perryman said. “We just have to play assignment football and guys have to hone into their assignment. It’s as simple as that.”

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