Hurricane fans are still salivating over UM’s stout defensive performance against Pittsburgh on Thursday.
For the first time since head coach Randy Shannon’s debut game, the Hurricanes didn’t allow a touchdown against a Division I-A school as they routed Pittsburgh, 31-3, at Heinz Field.
“Defensively, we tackled a whole lot better,” Shannon said. “Overall the gang tackling was great. I was really impressed with the pressure we was getting on the quarterback and we have to continue to do that every time.”
Miami came out knocking Pitt off the ball. On the first play of the game, the Hurricanes were in the backfield as senior captain Allen Bailey picked up his first sack since last Halloween.
That set the tune as the Hurricanes continued to swarm the entire game and forced seven three-and-outs. The Panthers didn’t pick up a first down until its last possession of the second quarter. Pittsburgh only had 11 first downs despite controlling the ball possession more than Miami.
It all started with stabilizing the run.
Coming into the game, the Canes had to stop returning NCAA leading rusher sophomore All-American Dion Lewis. Miami accomplished that goal as Lewis was held to 41 yards rushing on 12 carries. Lewis longest run was 14 yards.
Being able to stop Lewis set the tempo for Miami.
“Dion was a very special player on film, can really make you miss,” junior cornerback Brandon Harris said. “Being able to [tackle him] was very helpful for the defense.”
During practice last week, if all 11 players on defense didn’t get to the ball, Shannon made the offense run the play again. It paid off against the Panthers.
The Canes had nine tackles for losses, five sacks and two interceptions. The defense allowed 232 total yards, 128 rushing. Pitt’s sophomore running back Ray Graham ran for 100 yards on 14 carries but 42 of them came on a run in the final minute.
“We weren’t tackling well the first two games,” Shannon said. “The more we emphasized it in practice, about knocking guys back, they came out and responded.”
For the second consecutive week junior linebacker Sean Spence led the Canes in tackles with nine and for the season has a team-high 24 total tackles. Shannon was impressed by Spence’s play.
“He did a great job, really played the run game solid, made some plays in the passing game,” Shannon said. “Sean is really stepping up his game.”
Miami was anticipating and working towards creating turnovers against Pittsburgh, and finished with a total of three.
“Turnovers were a huge part of our game plan going in,” Harris said. “When you get turnovers they come in bunches. They weren’t able to move the ball much, and in the second half we were able to come up with two turnovers, which was huge.”
Eight of the Hurricane’s final nine games are against ACC opponents. The first conference game is Saturday at noon against Clemson in South Carolina.
Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.