Barry Jackson

UM coaches explain what is and isn’t hurting Canes’ defense. And a Martell explanation

Manny Diaz on his team’s growing pains

University of Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz spoke to the media after his team's 28-25 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday, September 7, 2019.
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University of Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz spoke to the media after his team's 28-25 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

A six-pack of Miami Hurricanes notes on a Monday:

So why has the UM defense regressed from last season, beyond the obvious factor of losing five high-caliber players in Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson and Gerald Willis?

Manny Diaz and defensive coordinator Blake Baker on Monday explained what’s causing some of the problems and what shouldn’t be blamed.

On the what-should-not-be-blamed list, according to Diaz: His involvement in the defense.

Though Diaz attends defensive planning meetings, he relinquished play-calling duties when he became head coach and turned them over to Baker.

Diaz said that’s a nonissue in UM’s defensive performance.

“I can’t have a better defensive staff,” Diaz said.

Here’s what else they say we shouldn’t blame for Saturday’s loss:

A. The pass rush. Even though UM had only one sack against UF, the Canes had four against North Carolina, and Diaz said the pass rush was good enough.

“Jon Garvin and Scott Patchan have been very disruptive,” Diaz said. “Greg Rousseau is flashing every single time.”

B. Linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney.

Even though Quarterman has received subpar grades from Pro Football Focus the past two weeks, Baker said: “I thought he played great last week. Against Florida, he tried to press too much. Shaq and Pinckney played significantly better. Both seemed more poised throughout the game.”

Though UM coaches weren’t allocating blame, their comments suggest these, among other players, need to play better than Saturday:

A. Sophomore safety Gurvan Hall. “There are going to be growing pains; he would be the first to tell you he didn’t play his best game,” Baker said. “You know it’s important to him. He he has to continue to get better. He will be fine.”

Hall and Trajan Bandy were closest to the North Carolina receiver on the killer 4th-and-17 completion late that led to Miami’s undoing. But Baker declined to say who was primarily responsible on that play.

B. Cornerback DJ Ivey. Why did UM start Ivey after his Week 1 suspension, considering how well Al Blades Jr. played in the opener?

“We grade everything in practice; he had better week of practice than Al,” Baker said. “It was obviously DJ’s first game of the season” and he was beaten for a big gain early in the game. “Once he settled in, he was fine.”

C. Strikers Romeo Finley and Gilbert Frierson. Finley was excellent in coverage last season but hasn’t been as good early this season.

The team’s strikers “have been up and down,” Baker said. “[UF and UNC] are not so much targeting our strikers. That’s been their strongest point at the receiver position is their slots.

“Coach [Jon] Patke has been hard on them this week. They’ve done some good things and not so good things. They have to build consistency and trusting their technique.”

D. Losing safety Amari Carter to ejection, after a targeting penalty in the first half.

“Rob Knowles did a great job, but it hurt losing Amari,” Baker said. “Amari is a leader back there.”

One negative consequence of Carter’s suspension is that Hall couldn’t come out to rest at all during the game, and that might have cost him on the 4th-and-17.

Diaz said “our pass defense has taken a step back from a year ago. Some of that might be to be expected.”

Baker said Rousseau will get more playing time. He had a sack Saturday, playing defensive end on some downs and playing inside on some third downs.

“We will continue to get him on the field more and more,” Baker said. “He has added a huge dimension sliding him inside.”

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said there were two reasons Tate Martell didn’t have a role against North Carolina: 1) He needs to learn the nuances of receiver. 2) What he offers wasn’t the best fit against UNC’s “multiple” defense.

Diaz, on reaction internally to the 0-2 start and the loss to UNC: “It’s possible to be angry and optimistic at the same time. After we got it righted [Saturday], we were by far the better team and at times bordered on dominant...When I see our offensive linemen blowing out huge holes and getting explosive runs and dominating both lines of scrimmage, I started seeing glimpses of what I envision this program being. …

“When we went on our run we didn’t get separation on the scoreboard with the way it looked…. The way we finished our last two drives defensively was disappointing. To be able to finish the way we did was extraordinarily disappointing and a breakdown on multiple levels.”

As we reported in March, Diaz said he’s using analytics to make decisions, and did so in going for it on a 4th-and-1 that came up short in the third quarter.

“I’m big into data,” he said. “The Moneyball effect has filtered into football. I equate it to playing blackjack. We know we want a team that wants to be aggressive and go for it on fourth down. Once you understand the data, you trust you’ve made the right decision. It’s been calculated.”

So will UM always go for it on 4th and short in opposing territory?

“It depends on score, time of game, depends on the opponent,” Diaz said. “And the data people factor all that in.”

UM’s home game against Central Michigan was set for 4 p.m. Sept. 21 and will be televised on ACC Network. It’s the third consecutive UM game that will be televised by the ACC Network, which cannot be seen in most South Florida homes.

Saturday’s home game against Bethune-Cookman also start at 4 p.m. and be televised on ACC Network.

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