University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes players rally around embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio

UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.
UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The mantra is to ignore the noise.

But for a few seconds last Friday night at FAU, University of Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio couldn’t do that. He couldn’t turn a deaf ear. So he fired back.

With Miami in an early dogfight with the Owls, a team the Hurricanes were supposed to have an easy time with, a UM fan in the crowd began firing obscenities at D’Onofrio and his defense.

“Do you your [bleeping] job,” the fan shouted.

“Let me coach,” D’Onofrio shouted back before senior linebacker Raphael Kirby began restraining him. “These kids deserve ...”

How D’Onofrio ended that sentence was hard to make out on the expletive-filled YouTube video making the rounds on Hurricanes fans message boards Tuesday. But how that night — and that tenuous moment on the UM sideline — ended is not.

Miami’s defense rallied around its coach in both instances. First Kirby hugged him as linebacker Tyriq McCord fired back at the fan. Soon, a team huddle converged on the sideline and eventually the Hurricanes figured it out on the field, shutting out the Owls on their final four drives in a 44-20 win.

“I think there were a lot of good things, and I’m going to focus on that,” D’Onofrio said when asked for his assessment of his defense’s performance against FAU. “I like the fact that we took the ball away [five times]. I like the fact that we had great unity, and we rallied from a tough situation and fought back. I thought we tackled really well in the second half.

“Some of the things that happened early in the game, we had a guy out of a gap here and there, and you missed a tackle down the field and you give up an explosive play. But let’s give them credit. They did a great job. We give them credit for the plays they were able to make. We go back and try to fix some of the things that we need to fix. But I thought, again, our guys were awesome. I thought we had great unity. I thought we had great leadership. They would’ve kept playing if we had another quarter. They wanted to keep playing ball.”

Guys are being more honest and that helps us as a team because the coaches can hurry up and make the corrections.

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D’Onofrio was never asked about the incident on the sideline Friday. The Miami Herald did not see the video until after Tuesday’s practice. But odds are D’Onofrio wouldn’t have commented on it anyway.

For all of the team’s struggles in coach Al Golden’s first four seasons in Coral Gables, Miami’s message has been one of unity since camp started this fall. A better understanding of what that means is provided by the video.

Golden said Monday night on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline that the reason the breakdowns were cleaned up in the second half Friday was because there was honesty on the sideline and in the halftime locker room. In other words, players owned up to their mistakes instead of deflecting blame like they have in the past.

“You can solve problems when guys are honest,” Golden said. “When guys know exactly what happened to them [it helps]. There’s a lot of times when you don’t get the truth and then you’re sitting there [watching film] on the way home and it’s, ‘Man, I knew it.’ But we were getting the truth. Guys were saying, ‘I got reached or I got cut [blocked] or I should have been in the A gap coach.’ If that’s the case, then [I know] I don’t need to change the call.”

Said rush end Al-Quadin Muhammad: “Guys are being more honest and that helps us as a team because the coaches can hurry up and make the corrections.”

For as bad as Miami looked in the first half Friday, D’Onofrio said the Hurricanes “tackled about 10 percent higher in Game 2 than we did in Game 1. That’s a tribute to how we played after we calmed down and played.”

This Saturday afternoon, though, the Hurricanes (2-0) can’t afford to wait until the middle of the third quarter to settle into their defense.

Nebraska (1-1) owns the nation’s 22nd-ranked passing offense and 24th-ranked total offense. They rank fifth with 31 passing plays of 10 yards or more and seventh with 20 rushing plays of 10 yards or more. Last year, the Cornhuskers rolled up 41 points and 456 yards against the Hurricanes, both season worsts for Miami’s defense.

D’Onofrio said running back Terrell Newby, a childhood friend of UM quarterback Brad Kaaya, has exceptional lateral quickness. He praised the Cornhuskers’ offensive line for its size and athleticism.

UM’s defense leads the country with seven turnovers this season but ranks 74th in yards allowed per rush (4.06). Miami also has faced the 15th-fewest passing plays of any defense in the country, a big reason they rank fifth in passing yards allowed (96.0).

“It’s a tremendous challenge for us,” D’Onofrio said. “And at the same time, a great opportunity.”

Manny Navarro: 305-376-3612, @Manny_Navarro

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