Most people figured that after seven games, the Miami Hurricanes would have some problem areas to try and fix for the homestretch of the season. However, very few could forecast the massive problems that the front seven has had in stopping the run.
Tomorrow, the undefeated Hurricanes(7-0) enter Rutgers Stadium as the nation’s top-ranked team, but with a run defense that hasn’t played anywhere close to that level over the past three weeks. The ‘Canes surrendered over 650 rushing yards against Florida State and West Virginia, boosting their average up to 185 yards given up per game on the year.
“We have to take care of our responsibilities more often[in stooping the run],” Coker said. “We’ve settled in and played the scheme in the second half, but we’ve got to trust the scheme from start to finish.”
After spending several hours in the film room during the off-week following Florida State, Miami players and coaches went back there this week to focus on what they were doing wrong. The Hurricane players, particularly those on defense, don’t want to think too much on their past troubles, though.
“We’re moving on,” said linebacker Jonathan Vilma. “We’re worrying about Rutgers.
The ‘Canes’ problems in stopping the run have overshadowed some of Miami’s improvements in other areas, particularly their pass offense. Against FSU and West Virginia, quarterback Ken Dorsey rebounded from shaky starts to throw for 362, and a career-high 422 yards respectively in the two contests.
Fullback Quadtrine Hill, silent for most of the year, caught six Dorsey throws for 108 yards, easily his biggest output as a Miami Hurricane.
“Quad Hill’s [play] was a huge plus for us,” Coker said. “Now, you can’t just drop back and play zone and take out deep receivers because we can throw the ball underneath.”
The Hurricanes will be looking to run a more balanced offense against a Rutgers team that gives up 384 yards per contest. Although that number seems pretty inflated, Coker says the defense has been one of Rutgers bright spots.
“They are a much improved football team, especially defensively,” Coker said. “They really play hard on defense, and as you can see, they’ve played tough with some of the very good teams.”
The Rutgers offense has not seen much success running the ball, as the duo of Markis Facyson and Clarence Pittman have spearheaded a ground attack that manages just 58 yards per game on average, something that should bode well for the struggling run defense. If Miami stops the run, the Scarlet Knights will be forced to throw the ball. Coker expects QB Ryan Cubit, who injured his right elbow against Syracuse last week, to play tomorrow.
Either way, it will be tough to throw the ball against a talented and confident Hurricane secondary that gives up less than 110 yards per game. Not only is the secondary been the team’s best defensive weapon, but a unit that continues to increase their level of play every week.
“I think we had a little chemistry, beginning in the summer,” said safety Sean Taylor. “We knew that we would be the group that everybody wanted to pick on, and we showed everybody that we were here to play.”
A victory would give the Hurricanes their 30th consecutive victory, which would extend their nation-long winning streak as well as set a new school record, breaking the 29 games in a row that Miami won between 1990-1993. Although the players don’t want to focus on records and winning streaks, offensive lineman Brett Romberg admitted that setting a new school record would be an impressive feat.
“It’s awesome to be part of such a winning program and I guess you forget how it feels like to lose a football game,” Romberg said. “I hope it stays that way.”
Even if the Hurricanes win their 30th consecutive victory, it may not prevent them from dropping to No.3 in next week’s BCS rankings. The Hurricanes are currently ranked behind Oklahoma and ahead of the current third-ranked team, Notre Dame, by three-tenths of a point. However, Miami’s match up against a 1-7 Rutgers team combined with the Fighting Irish taking on a much tougher Boston College squad may be just enough to vault ND into the prized second-place spot. Either way, the Hurricane players don’t really care at this point.
“We know that if we keep putting W’s on the board, then the BCS will put us where we need to be,” Taylor said. “The BCS has done a good job putting everybody in their place and they should put us in the right place if we keep winning.”
All Miami will be concentrated on tomorrow is a victory against the Scarlet Knights. Although nothing short of James Gandolfini bringing his mob crew will give 1-7 Rutgers any sort of chance, Romberg says Miami will have to be on their toes, because after all, the man coaching on the home team’s sideline is former UM defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
“You can never be prepared for what Schiano does,” Romberg said. “He’ll throw some crazy blitzes and plays at you. But we always try and show why he shouldn’t have left the UM and hopefully that will give guys a lot of umph.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at email@example.com.