Defense can’t afford to make mistakes against Duke

Fresh off a humbling loss in Nebraska, Miami returns for its second ACC conference matchup of the season, needing a win to stay relevant in the Coastal Division and not fall to 0-2.

The Hurricanes will host the 4-0 Duke Blue Devils, No. 26 AP and No. 23 USA Today, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium in what could be an early season make or break game for Head Coach Al Golden’s team.

Duke comes into Miami with momentum and has played Miami in the past two seasons. A “down” Duke team in 2012 fully tested Miami’s limits as the Canes tried to reach the ACC Championship, and then ousted Miami in the second half of the 2013 season.

Although Duke has had a breezy schedule thus far, they’re still 4-0 and return many of their talent from last year’s Cinderella team.

“Duke has made a lot of progress,”  Golden said in a press conference Wednesday. “They’re the champions right now in our division, and that’s the way it stands. Period.”

Golden talked about improvement and the lessons learned from the Nebraska loss.

“There’s a lot of work [to be done]. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Golden said.

The Canes faced a mentally tough test in Nebraska, not only losing momentum and the game but also getting into two brawls in the process.

However, playing in front of the home crowd should help the Hurricanes stay disciplined.

With Duke being undefeated and on the cusp of the top 25 in the AP Poll, expect a lot of the Miami faithful to turn out. Home field will play a big advantage, especially if Miami can get on the board early.

Duke only harbors the 71-ranked defense in the nation, not that Miami has much to brag about at  No. 51.

This could be Duke Johnson’s breakaway game. In big games against Louisville and Nebraska, he’s been rendered largely ineffective, not the Duke that Canes fans embraced during his first two seasons.

The Blue Devils are ranked No. 43 in pass defense, but if Kaaya shows the poise and accuracy he’s displayed his past two outings, this could be just another day at the office for the quarterback.

There are standard growing pains for a new quarterback, but Kaaya has looked better each game as the season has gone on. Duke has played without its best defensive player in linebacker Kelby Brown, who is out for the season.

Blue Devils true freshman RB Shaun Wilson is averaging 14 yards a carry and right around 100 yards per game. He’ll be tough to stop if the defensive line repeats its biggest mistake as it did during the Nebraska game, fighting the O-line tooth and nail and losing focus on the man with the ball.

Golden emphasized the importance of the pass rush as a key to taking on Duke.

“We’re going to have to get more negatives – both sacks and TFL’s – to keep him off balance and behind the sticks,” Golden said.

If defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio turns the pages of his playbook to the blitz as shown in the Arkansas State game, that’s when the light-switch seems to click on for this defense.