It’s not hard to imagine how Nesta Jade Silvera looked when he returned to the sideline at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday after his first career sack.
The Miami Hurricanes’ defensive line tormented the Florida State Seminoles all day and Silvera’s first sack was Miami’s seventh of the game, deep into the second half of a convincing 27-10 win in Tallahassee.
After the win, Silvera fielded a question about what his first sack sack meant and immediately flashed a big, gold grin.
“I had two,” the defensive lineman retorted Saturday.
The final stat sheet only logged Silvera with one, but it was clear anyway this was his best game of the season. The sophomore played a season-high 28 snaps and Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded his six-tackle performance as his best this year.
Manny Diaz agreed with the assessment.
“There’s no doubt this was his best game. In fact, a lot of our inside guys probably played their best game,” the coach said after practice Wednesday in Coral Gables. “Our defensive tackles were dominant on Saturday, but it was really good to see Nesta play the way he played. His level of disruption, his energy, his motor I think is the thing that stands out and that’s why we were so fortunate to be able to roll five guys in those spots.”
Florida State is one of the handful of teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference with as many question marks along the offensive line as the Hurricanes, and Miami’s defensive line took advantage.
Six Hurricanes combined for a season-high nine sacks. Gregory Rousseau stole most of the immediate attention with four sacks, but fellow defensive linemen Trevon Hill, Jonathan Garvin, Jonathan Ford and Silvera also all chipped in with sacks. Miami (5-4, 4-3) is as healthy as it has been all season up front and it translated into massive production last weekend in the Florida Panhandle.
The reintroduction — and rapid improvement — of Silvera is one of the biggest factors. At the start of the year, the Hurricanes had to use a tight rotation at defensive tackle with Ford and fellow defensive lineman Pat Bethel starting, and eating up most of the snaps.
Defensive linemen Jordan Miller and Chigozie Nnoruka were strictly depth pieces, and Rousseau would occasionally kick inside on obvious passing downs.
Now Miami has three players it clearly trusts at defensive tackle, not even including Rousseau. Silvera ranks as the No. 8 pass-rushing interior defensive lineman in the country, according to PFF.
“This is what college football players do. They get in the game and they get experience, and then something good happens,” Diaz said. “He was so proud of his first sack on the sideline, which is so cool to see.”
Opportunities like the last few weeks haven’t been there for Silvera before. A top-60 overall prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings coming out of Plantation American Heritage, Silvera didn’t play much as a freshman in 2018, then suffered a preseason foot injury in the summer. The sophomore was in line to be one of the Hurricanes’ top three defensive tackles, but he didn’t suit up until the start of October after missing the first four games of the season.
In his first four games, Silvera totaled just three tackles. On Saturday alone, he doubled his season total.
“I’ve been through a lot the last about six months, and just to come back out and just trying to play catch up with these guys, I don’t quite know the word,” Silvera said. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Bethel and Ford have been steady enough this season to keep Silvera in a reserve role. Still, the 6-2, 310-pound lineman brings a different dimension to Miami’s defensive line.
What he might lack in size compared to Bethel and Ford, Silvera makes up for with his leverage and motor. One of his six tackles Saturday came when the Seminoles threw a swing pass to the running back, and Silvera tracked down the ballcarrier and tackled him from behind near the right sideline short of the first down.
The Hurricanes’ return to Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday will provide a different sort of test for Silvera and the Hurricanes’ red-hot defensive line. The Louisville Cardinals are a run-heavy team — one of three schools in the ACC averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game — and they’re led by star tackle Mekhi Becton, a potential first-round NFL Draft pick.
“If you look at our snap counts and how many snaps mostly everybody plays, they’re pretty even,” Diaz said. “And when you do that you can really get a guy to go in there and really empty the tank, come out, get a rest, go back in, and do it again and that’s going to be really important against Louisville with the way that they run the football because if you try to take a down off there’s going to be huge seams in there.”