Three red-zone trips. Only nine points.
For a Miami Hurricanes red-zone defense that ranks 95th in the nation, the performance Friday in a 17-9 win over the University of Virginia was a welcomed stray from the norm.
“There’s a lot of pride in the guys that play on that defense,” coach Manny Diaz said.
Prior to Friday, the Canes’ defense had allowed 11 touchdowns when backed up against their own end zone. Miami gave up zero to the No. 20 Cavaliers.
On Monday, Diaz said he was going to take a more active role in coaching the Hurricanes’ defense. On Friday, the defense looked like one of Miami’s from the last few years when Diaz was the defensive coordinator.
“[Diaz] just came in the defensive meeting room and told us that we need to play better,” cornerback Trajan Bandy said.
The Canes’ defense wasn’t perfect — it allowed UVA to convert 50 percent of its third downs — but it made stops when it mattered most.
“I think the neatest thing about our team is that we just don’t panic,” Diaz said. “When things are going poorly, our guys, they get back out there and they continue to fight again.”
That fight, which Diaz and several players kept referring to as “relentlessness,” was highlighted in two defensive stands — one in the second quarter and another in the fourth.
The first came at the end of a 43-yard drive in the first half that halted at Miami’s 24. This stop seemed to inject a boost of confidence into a defensive unit which played poorly six days earlier. On two consecutive plays, the Cavaliers failed to gain the one yard needed for a first down due to a sturdy Canes defense. The Cavaliers ended up turning the ball over on downs and the Canes escaped with their 7-0 lead still intact.
The other series, which began late in the third quarter and spanned into the fourth, was even more impressive. Down 7-3, the Cavaliers were on the 9-yard line yet failed three times to take the lead. They ended up settling for a field goal.
“To not [let them] score on any of those snaps — and you’re talking about a player of [Bryce Perkins’] ability — that’s just a mindset,” Diaz said.
If the Canes want to make a play at the Coastal Division title, which they still have a chance at doing, their defense will have to lead the way. Keeping that fight, relentlessness and mindset, however, will be the key.
“As long as the intangibles are there — as long as the fight, the attitude of never giving up and all that type of stuff — you can win with that,” Diaz said.