University of Miami

New-look Hurricanes defense shows promise in season-opening rout

The University of Miami’s season opener against Florida A&M on Saturday night was the first chance to see how a new defensive coordinator, a new defensive scheme, new defensive position coaches, and five new defensive starters would perform.

And if one game’s statistics are an indication, the defense figures to be vastly improved this season.

UM held FAMU to 175 passing yards, below its 2015 average of 203.5. The Rattlers netted only 22 yards rushing on 42 carries against a defense that allowed an average of 201.7 yards in 2015. And FAMU was held to 4 of 16 (25 percent) on third down; UM’s opponents last season converted 39 percent of third downs last season. .

Miami started three true freshmen at linebacker and they all performed well, with Shaquille Quarterman registering seven tackles (2.5 tackles for loss) alongside Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney.

“Once we ran through the smoke I was totally focused and locked in to the task at hand,” Quarterman said.

When asked whether he was nervous before his first hit, Quarterman said, “No, we’ve done so much banging against each other in spring and fall camp that I was more excited than nervous. I didn’t have the pregame jitters. Some people may say that’s weird that you don’t have them, but I was just excited to tackle somebody else to start the season right.”

Another promising sign came when true freshman defensive end Pat Bethel — the son of former UM defensive end Randy Bethel (1987-90) — blocked a punt in the first quarter.

Senior cornerbacks Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert, both returning starters, excelled in the new defense as each grabbed an interception. Elder’s interception on the opening Rattlers drive was the first sign that the night could hold a strong defensive performance.

This kind of effort is what Miami fans were looking for from the team that last season finished 70th (out of 128 teams) in the Football Bowl Subdivision in overall defense.

“Proud of the effort of our players [Saturday],” new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “I thought it was important that we started the game and set the tempo early on, and to have a senior like Corn Elder make an interception on the first drive of the game is what you want your older guys, your experienced guys to do. And I think the other guys fed off that.''

Miami’s offense, which was much less of a question mark than the defense, surpassed its 2015 average output by 124 yards.

Miami scored the first 28 points of the game before Austin Miller connected on a 31-yard field goal with 4:47 left in the second quarter for Florida A&M’s only points of the game. The Hurricanes then scored the final 42 points of the game.

Related stories from Miami Herald