What a difference a year, a coach and veteran players make.
After allowing 472 rushing yards in last year’s meeting, Miami allowed just 95 yards on the ground, and only 35 yards after the first quarter.
“Our focus all week was tackle, tackle, tackle,” said sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris, who had four tackles and three pass deflections. “We worked our tails off to make sure we tackled and it all paid off. We took that loss personally last year.”
First-year defensive coordinator John Lovett and head coach Randy Shannon pulled out all the stops in preparing for the game. During practice, they had live cut block drills where defensive players weren’t allowed to wear pads and had to shed blocks with their hands and stay on their feet. At least one series every practice Shannon ran quarterback for the scout team.
“Coach Lovett did a great job with the defensive game plan,” Shannon said. “He didn’t want guys on the ground being chopped, and we worked on that all week long. Those things made a big difference. We were chasing the football.”
Reigning ACC player of the year, Jonathan Dwyer, who had 128 rushing yards last year, was completely mantled every time he touched the ball finishing the game with five carries for seven yards. Dwyer didn’t even take a single snap in the second half as he was forced to leave with a shoulder injury.
“We were going at Dwyer every play,” Harris said. “We weren’t going to let 21 run on us.”
Last year the Hurricanes were without senior captain Randy Phillips, junior linebacker Colin McCarthy, senior defensive end Eric Moncur and redshirt freshman safety Vaughn Telemaque. All received significant playing time last Thursday night.
Their impact was phenomenal. Even freshman defensive end Olivier Vernon got in the mix and dominated the right side with three tackles for a loss and half a sack. The five combined for 18 tackles and kept Georgia Tech from breaking any long runs.
Also, with last year’s young defensive players getting older and gaining more experience definitely benefited the Hurricanes. Miami had 10 tackles for a loss.
“You look at the guys now, they’re a lot older,” Shannon said. “Last year they ran up field, were taking too many chances. It was a tremendous job in the run game from last year. That was the difference in the game.”
The turning point of the game occurred on the GT’s opening drive. UM held the Yellow Jackets to just three points despite the fact they quickly marched in the red zone.
“Early in the game we kept on tackling, kept hitting the quarterback, the running back,” McCarthy said. “They felt it. That’s what we wanted to do, make sure we kept hitting them, pounding them and wear them out.”
Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org