Even though his defense produced the first shutout at UM since 2010 last week and held Bethune-Cookman to only 79 yards, Mark D’Onofrio made it clear there were some things his unit needed to work on.
“I thought we missed too many tackles,” the fifth-year Hurricanes defensive coordinator said earlier this week. “We need some of the guys to be more precise, particularly the twos and threes that got in the game.”
Precision and tackling were not the Hurricanes’ strengths Friday night at FAU. And it wasn’t just the second- and third-teamers.
FAU’s offense, quarterbacked by freshman backup Jason Driskel, ran rampant through the Hurricanes’ defense in the first half. Although the Canes ended up prevailing 44-20, nobody needed to see the final score to figure out Friday’s first-half performance was an embarrassment for UM’s defense.
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“We have to tackle better on defense, get lined up better on defense,” Golden said at the intermission. “Their tempo got us there a little bit.”
FAU’s fast-paced read option attack rolled up 292 yards in the first two quarters, including 168 on the ground.
Starting safety Dallas Crawford whiffed twice on open-field tackles in the first quarter. The first led to FAU’s longest rush of the game, a 46-yard scamper by junior Jay Warren to the Hurricanes’ 8-yard line. Four plays later, FAU settled for a field goal, trimming UM’s lead to 7-3.
After a 67-minute weather delay, UM’s defense didn’t come out looking any better even with FAU starting quarterback Jaquez Johnson sidelined by a sprained right ankle.
Driskel, the younger brother of former Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (whom the Hurricanes picked off twice in a 21-16 win in 2013), entered the game down 14-3 and promptly engineered a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive in 3 minutes and 11 seconds. He tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Nate Terry to make it 14-10 with 1:43 left in the opening quarter.
“Congrats to my brother @JDriskel on his first career TD pass,” the elder Driskel, now at Louisiana Tech, posted on his Twitter account during the game. “Lead the Owls right down the field.”
Driskel kept doing it to Miami with Warren at his side. Warren had 132 yards rushing on 11 carries — including a 9-yard touchdown run that evened the score at 17 with 9:46 left in the half.
But then, Canes backup safety Jamal Carter delivered the hit of the game. He drilled Warren at the FAU 27-yard line and jarred the ball loose. Crawford scooped ball the ball and returned it to the FAU 23 to setup the Canes’ go-ahead field goal at the half.
“Yeah it did,” Canes middle linebacker Raphael Kirby said when asked if Carter’s big hit on Warren woke the Canes defense up. “It was a huge turning point in the game. We knew we had to get the ball back. And we gave [the offense] back the ball with good field position. It was just executing proper technique. It was a great play by Jamal Carter.”
FAU never truly recovered from Carter’s hit.
UM held the Owls to 97 yards total offense in the second half and only seven first downs. And most of that came on the opening 63-yard drive that evened the score at 20 with 9:44 to play in the third quarter.
“Just a couple substitution errors, guys not really being in their gaps like they’re supposed to be,” Kirby said of UM’s first-half miscues on defense. “We came out in the second half and corrected a lot of things. That’s what we do as a team. We fix things that go wrong. We don’t make the same mistakes.”
Still, the problems D’Onofrio apparently saw in practice were exposed Friday night by an Owls team that has talent, but shouldn’t have run so freely or easily — especially with a backup quarterback under center.
UM was the nation’s 14th-ranked total defense in 2014 — a stat they were proud to boast even after a disappointing 6-7 finish to the season. Friday, FAU had six rushing plays of 10 yards or more and had four pass plays of 15 yards or more through the first three quarters — something that will surely be a sore point in the film room.
Ultimately, turnovers helped UM create some breathing room in the third quarter.
Rayshawn Jenkins recorded his second interception of the season and it led to a touchdown. Corn Elder, last week’s hero with a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, pounced on a fumble. Chad Thomas and Carter each forced fumbles for the first times in their career.
Next week’s test against Nebraska will surely be tougher.
Said Kirby: “We’re going to get back Monday and Tuesday, make corrections, and get to work.”
The Hurricanes could have a big injury to deal with moving forward.
Sophomore linebacker Darrion Owens left the game late in the first quarter with a right knee injury and was spotted on the sideline in tears. Owens was replaced in the starting lineup this week by senior Tyriq McCord, but was counted on by D’Onofrio as a valuable player, someone who could play three different linebacker spots.