The Miami Hurricanes entered their first bye week at 2-2 with the heart of the ACC schedule on the horizon. Last week we graded the offense so far this year, let's take a look at their teammates on defense and special teams.
Statistically the numbers speak to a solid start for the big boys up front, but they have had situational struggles which impact their overall grade.
Gregory Rousseau is off and running, the 6-foot-6 true freshman out of Coconut Creek leads the team with three sacks after four games. His lack of playing time compared to others on the defensive line is puzzling after his early success, Rousseau has sacks in three out of four games. He earned his first "Turnover Chain" against CMU with a trifecta - sack, forced fumble, and recovery.
After Rousseau the line has been inconsistent, the rest of the group has only combined to match his three sacks. Scott Patchan showed some flashes early and has a sack with a fumble recovery but has dropped off of late.
Junior Jonathan Garvin has been steady if unspectacular, with just a single sack and a fumble recovery so far this year. Miami needs the front four to set the tone better in early downs to put opposing offenses in tougher down and distance.
Once they get teams to third down they have done very well overall.
They also need better situational pass rushing to get off the field (cough... 4th and 17) but overall the group has contributed to Miami holding teams to a stellar 24.5% success rate on 3rd down, good for fourth in the nation.
This group should get better as the year rolls on so the grade now won't be as harsh as it could be. They just have to make the plays when it matters most.
Age and experience have not translated into elite production from this senior led linebacker corps. Shaq Quaterman (26 tackles, sack, FR) and Michael Pinckney (19 tackles, sack) were both on the Butkus Award watch list entering the season and have been workhorses, rarely leaving the field in most packages.
However, game changing plays and turnovers have been lacking somewhat from the linebacker spot, that aspect needs to improve.
The playing time distribution has left another senior linebacker, Zach McCloud, as the odd man out. McCloud has only played 21 snaps so far this year and sat out the 17-12 win against Central Michigan. He approached Head Coach Manny Diaz about redshirting as new NCAA rules allow a player to play up to four games to remain eligible to do so.
If McCloud does not suit up again look for Romeo Finley (13 tackles, INT) to see an increased role.
Miami has been strong against the run, ranking sixth in the nation allowing just 59.8 yards per game on the ground.
The defensive backfield has been a work in progress all season, starting with two departures via the transfer portal in safety Derrick Smith and cornerback Nigel Bethel.
Those two were mainly depth players but Miami has had to work without a full group all season. That will change with the return of safety Bubba Bolden who should bring some energy to a group that hasn’t had many game changing moments.
Trajan Bandy earned a nod on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list but has had an up and down year. He has yet to record an interception (but does have two sacks and a fumble recovery) and has endured stretches of inconsistency.
Al Blades has the lone interception out of the secondary, this was a huge factor in Miami’s success on defense in recent years. Like the other position groups the secondary is leaving plays on the field. Miami is not good enough to win on talent alone, they need to execute and turn the ball over to reach their potential.
Typically one group or player cannot be pinpointed in causing a win or a loss, it is after all a team game.
Bubba Baxa has been a disaster close in, only making two of four attempts inside 30 yards including one against the Tar Heels. He also had an extra point blocked (that's on the line) but has not exactly invoked confidence otherwise.
Jeff Thomas had a huge muffed punt which changed the Florida game and the group's mistakes stand out more than their triumphs.
Lou Headley (44.9 GYD/P, long of 59) has been a drastic improvement over Zach Feagles, Miami has been much better in terms of field position thanks to Headley.
Baxa's struggles have amplified the negative spotlight on this group, the mental mistakes and execution must drastically improve.
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