If Hurricane fans traveled 155 miles from UM to Fort Myers Bishop Verot High School to see offensive fireworks, it was a long two-and-a-half hour drive back.
The defense dominated the team’s second scrimmage of the spring Friday night, recording 10 sacks, three interceptions, and holding the offense to just two touchdowns after the opening series of goal line scenarios.
“We haven’t been that physical on defensive line and linebacker in a while,” coach Al Golden said. “I thought we were running around and hitting to be honest with you. Our defensive line came to play today.”
Sophomore middle linebacker Denzel Perryman had two of the team’s three interceptions to add to his two tackles and a sack.
He says forcing turnovers has been the focus of defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s talks with his unit.
“In the meetings he was talking to us about how we need to catch the interceptions that they throw to us,” Perryman said post-game with blood dripping from the bridge of his nose. “Just catching the ball, lining up and catching it, and that’s what we did today.”
D’Onofrio, now entering his second year with UM after following Golden from Temple to Miami, was pleased with what he saw.
“We got some takeaways. We got the ones that they threw to us,” he said. “We’ve got to become that opportunistic defense that can get takeaways and score points like the Hurricanes used to do.”
Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who finished his freshman campaign last season with six sacks and has been battling a back injury, had five tackles and three sacks Friday.
Since quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit, sacks were counted once a defender had a clear path to the quarterback and reached out to touch him. Others recording sacks, aside from Perryman and Chickillo, were Curtis Porter, Ricardo Williams, Jalen Grimble, Gionni Paul, and Vero Beach early enrollee Dwayne Hoilett, who had two.
D’Onofrio was impressed with the performances of freshman early enrollees on defense Hoilett, Raphael Kirby, and Larry Hope.
“They should be in high school right now,” he said. “They should be getting ready for senior prom, and they’re out there practicing.”
The pressure the defense was getting on the quarterbacks had a lot to do with their poor passing numbers.
Already missing their most experienced wide receiver, junior Allen Hurns, the quarterbacks then saw Phillip Dorsett go down with a pulled hamstring early in the scrimmage and struggled to move the ball until they worked in the two-minute offense late.
Memphis transfer Ryan Williams saw the bulk of the work. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 178 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.
“[Williams] wasn’t as sharp as [in the last scrimmage],” Golden said. “The [defensive line] and linebackers had a lot to do with that with the pressure. So that’s a function of the offense in the protection, and I also think Dorsett not being there- I think that hindered him as well because we really lost him from the get-go.”
The two freshmen early enrollees behind Williams received plenty of playing time themselves. Gray Crow went 11 for 18 with 64 yards and an interception while Preston Dewey had a 9-for-14 outing with 71 yards.
Receiving touchdowns were scored by Rashawn Scott, Kendal Thompkins and C.J. Holton on a goal line dump off pass.
Whether it was a byproduct of the lack of an aerial attack or vice-versa, the Miami running game was stagnant as well.
Senior Mike James had 15 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown out of a goal line package, and Eduardo Clements made just 17 yards out of his 14 carries.
The defensive physicality transcended Miami’s front seven. The defensive backs got in on the act too.
Junior college transfer Ladarius Gunter had six tackles and picked off a Ryan Williams pass in the end zone. Sophomore corner Thomas Finnie, who plays stronger than his size would indicate, had seven hard-hitting tackles.
Over 5,000 fans were in attendance for Friday night’s scrimmage. Bishop Verot’s home stadium holds a capacity of 4,500, but fans were allowed to stand in several areas surrounding the field.