University of Miami

UM’s defense continues to improve by clamping down on North Carolina

UM’s Deon Bush strips the ball from UNC quarterback Marquise Williams in the third quarter Saturday. Bush also had an interception.
UM’s Deon Bush strips the ball from UNC quarterback Marquise Williams in the third quarter Saturday. Bush also had an interception. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A month ago — in the aftermath of Georgia Tech’s 318-yard rushing clinic — pictures were making their way around the internet showing just how far off the line of scrimmage Hurricanes defenders were lining up before the snap in Atlanta.

It was evidence, angry UM fans argued, why defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio had to go. But that defensive strategy — or the results they were producing at least — feels like ancient history now.

Saturday’s 47-20 romp over North Carolina at Sun Life Stadium marked the third game in a row Miami’s defense put the clamps on an opponent early, and let Duke Johnson and the offense jump out to a big lead before coasting down the stretch.

The Tar Heels (4-5), averaging 37.4 points per game (they scored 35 at Clemson and 43 at Notre Dame), produced a season-low 259 yards of total offense, and didn’t score an offensive touchdown until after the Canes had already built a 44-6 lead midway through the third quarter.

Thanks to a season-high six sacks (38 yards lost) and two bad snaps on punts by the Tar Heels (55 yards lost), UNC produced just six yards rushing against UM. That’s the fewest a Canes defense has given up since holding UCF to four yards rushing on Oct. 11, 2008.

Since its awful night in Atlanta, the Canes have now surrendered just 193 yards rushing on 92 carries — an impressive 2.1-yard per carry average.

“Offensively, there was never a situation where we felt like we were in any kind of rhythm whatsoever,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “They whipped us. That’s all I can say.”

The Hurricanes set the tone on Carolina’s opening drive five plays in when sophomore Artie Burns sacked quarterback Marquis Williams on a cornerback blitz. Williams never saw him coming.

He didn’t see Corn Elder on the corner blitz on the next series either. UM’s blitzing defensive backs accounted for half of the team’s sacks in all.

“The d-line is running good stunts,” said safety Deon Bush, who had a sack in the second half, an interception and a forced fumble Saturday to go with five tackles.

“The corners in their blitzes are showing good disguise, and the quarterback has no idea they are coming a lot of the time. Coach D just dialed up a really good call. He knew their tendencies, and we capitalized when our number was called.”

Said Williams, who finished 22-of-32 passing for 191 yards and an interception: “They did an incredible job. My hat goes off to the Hurricanes.”

UM coach Al Golden said his defense is making progress because it’s “tackling better, playing very unselfish and getting off the field on third down better.”

Carolina finished 5-of-15 on third down Saturday. UM’s last three opponents have combined to go just 16-of-47 (34 percent) on third down.

Counting the two takeaways Saturday, UM has eight over its last three games. UM had 11 takeaways over its first six games combined.

“Guys are just competing with one another,” said linebacker Denzel Perryman, who led the team with 10 tackles and had a sack. “In the locker room at halftime Tyriq [McCord] told me to match his intensity. And you know I guess that’s what were doing amongst each other.

“I feel like that’s what it is. We’re just out there competing trying to get to the ball.”

Now, a date with unbeaten rival Florida State awaits in two weeks. The Seminoles scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to turn a tight game into a 41-14 runaway last year in Tallahassee.

“[Jameis] Winston is a great quarterback, probably one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” said Bush, who had an interception in last year’s game. “It’s a great challenge having a player of that caliber coming in here. We’re just accepting the challenge. We’ll be ready to play when he comes in.”

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