University of Miami

Canes’ defense on the rise as Tar Heels matchup looms

Miami Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) celebrates a big hit with teammates in the first quarter as the University of Miami hosts Cincinnati at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, October 11, 2014.
Miami Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) celebrates a big hit with teammates in the first quarter as the University of Miami hosts Cincinnati at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, October 11, 2014. Miami Herald Staff

Linebacker Denzel Perryman, sweating profusely after practice, was asked Monday if he ever regrets returning to the University of Miami for his senior season.

“Nah,” Perryman replied. “No regrets. No wondering. No nothing.”

It might have helped that Perryman had just been named one of 15 semifinalists (and one of just two from the Atlantic Coast Conference) for the Butkus Award that goes to college football’s outstanding linebacker at season’s end.

And it likely helped that his defense beat up Virginia Tech so thoroughly last Thursday that it no doubt assuaged some of the frustration from allowing 661 combined rushing yards in losses at Nebraska and Georgia Tech.

“It was us,” Perryman said in explaining that the Hurricanes dominated, as opposed to the Hokies being unmercifully bad in the 30-6 UM victory at Blacksburg. “I know how we prepared in practice, that we were going to go out and have a dominant performance. We brought our training to the game.

“We improved as a whole because everyone had taken ownership of doing their job and trusting the man next to [them].”

As the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2 ACC) prepare to host North Carolina (4-4, 2-2) at 12:30p.m. Saturday in another must-win Coastal Division game, their defense is infused with confidence.

UM is now ranked 15th nationally in total defense, allowing 319.3 yards per game. The Canes are 35th in scoring defense (22.1 points allowed per game), 50th in rushing defense (147.6) and ninth in passing yards allowed (171.6).

On three successive series to begin the third quarter at VT, Miami forced and recovered fumbles: the first by safety Deon Bush, who also recovered the ball at the UM 2-yard line; the second, forced by cornerback Tracy Howard and recovered by linebacker Jermaine Grace at the UM 32; the third, forced by Perryman and recovered by Grace at the UM 17.

The Canes are now tied for 16th in the nation in turnovers gained, with 10 fumble recoveries and seven interceptions.

“It felt good, definitely a huge momentum swing,” Howard said. “We already had a lot of momentum with Deon. It’s kind of demoralizing to the other team.”

Added Bush: “CoachD, he always stresses going after the ball. We were doing it in practice, and it translated to the game.”

Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said the Hurricanes “did a really good job of playing together as a team. … The last two weeks, we’ve had three [takeaways] in each game, and it certainly helps. We take pride in that.”

Miami will face what D’Onofrio said is the best offensive team it will have played to this point — “no doubt.” The Tar Heels are led by junior Marquise Williams, one of only five quarterbacks in the nation who lead their team in both passing yards (2,035) and rushing yards (497).

Williams has thrown for 17 touchdowns (with seven interceptions), run for five and even scored one as a receiver.

“He’s an awesome dual threat,” D’Onofrio said.

D’Onofrio credited the improved play to fewer mental errors each week “while playing more guys. To me, that’s a good sign that guys are doing their jobs … and bringing young guys along.”

He avoided the topic of how the Hurricanes clearly played more aggressively at Blacksburg, saying they were aggressive in other games, as well.

Nose tackle Mike Wyche agreed.

“It’s not the play calling,” Wyche insisted. “It’s just us executing. It was never the play calling.”

Wyche, from Chesapeake, Virginia, said he was thrilled “to go back home” and play in front of his family.

“It was nice to get that victory because Virginia Tech didn’t recruit me, and I always wanted to go there as a kid.

“Not now,” he added. “I’m a Cane, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

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