October is put up or shut up time for Hurricanes defense

Miami defense enters October, "as healthy as we’ve been.”

October has arrived and it's time for the Miami Hurricanes to put up or shut up. 

The Hurricanes are home for the next three games against Virginia Tech (Saturday), No. 23 Virginia (Oct. 11) and Georgia Tech (Oct. 19). Miami then caps off the month on the road at Pittsburgh, who are still riding the high of being the first team to beat Central Florida in the last two years and change. 

“We knew that this would really be, starting in October, this would really be the meat of our season, really define how this whole deal was going to go,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz said on Monday morning on 560-AM.

Miami has always been known for its fierce defense and it will have to be that unit that helps lead the Hurricanes through the Coastal Divison and into the ACC Championship Game. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, they enter Saturday's game as close to full health as they've been all season, according to Diaz. 

“We are probably as healthy as we’ve been,” Diaz said during Monday's press conference and then knocked on his wooden podium inside the Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence.

Defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera has returned to practice and is expected to play against Virginia Tech as well. Silvera was regarded as one of the best defensive lineman in the nation while at American Heritage High. He played 10 games as a true freshman last season and totaled 13 tackles including a blocked punt that was recovered for a touchdown against Savannah State. 

“[Silvera] will be back well, which will be great, allowing us to roll our guys up front, which obviously, everybody knows we like to do,” Diaz said. “I think our D-tackles are off to a good start. Obviously, they’re pretty stout versus the run, which will be a huge key — I think every week — but certainly this week with Virginia Tech coming in.”

“Nesta’s a load inside, now," said defensive coordinator Blake Baker. "He’s a spark for us. I think he brings a ton of energy besides the physical aspect of it, but he’s a physically gifted young man.”

Another new feature on the defensive front is the upgrade in playing time for defensive end Gregory Rousseau. The redshirt freshman leads the Hurricanes in sacks (three) and, earned his first Turnover Chain moment when he forced a fumble on a strip-sack and recovered it himself against Central Michigan. Baker said during his press conference on Monday that, “You’ll see more a dose of Greg Rousseau.”

“He keeps producing, he’s going to continue to play. He’s continuing to get more comfortable with what we’re asking him to do. He continues to produce when he’s out there. Competition makes everybody better," Baker said. "He’s really pushing Scott Patchan, pushing [Jonathan Garvin] and I think Trevon Hill is getting a lot better and getting more comfortable in our scheme.

Miami is also expected to have defensive back Bubba Bolden make his Canes debut on Saturday. Bolden transferred to Miami from USC and is finally eligible to play. It's been a full calendar year since he's left the Trojans.  

“Bubba adds a lot of range," Baker said. "He has phenomenal ball skills, but he’s a long guy that can run and cover a lot of ground. I think he’s physical in the run game, as well.”

Bolden didn't play in 2018 and totaled eight tackles in 13 games with the Trojans in 2017 as a freshman. That was because of an incident at an off-campus party result in an indefinite suspension at USC in August 2018, prompting Bolden to eventually transfer. He became eligible to play in Miami once he earned an associates degree by taking 40 credit hours worth of classes at both the College of Southern Nevada and El Camino College in Southern California in 12 months. 

“It’ll be good to see him going and providing more competition in our secondary," Diaz said. "He’s been waiting around, working really hard. I’m just really excited to see Bubba get out there on the field of play.”

Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 ACC) ranks 99th nationally in scoring offense (23.3 points per game), 104th in rushing defense (189 yards per game) and have a turnover margin of minus-8. Only Hawai'i and New Mexico State are worse. The Hookies' last game resulted in a 45-10 beatdown by Duke but at 2-2 with only wins against Bethune-Cookman of the FCS and Central Michigan of the MAC, Miami is in no position to take any team lightly.

“It’s very hard to watch a team a week ago, and say, ‘That’s the team that’s going to show up this Saturday,’ because generally speaking, almost the opposite is more often true in college football,” Diaz said on Monday. “We expect to see their best effort on Saturday.”