Defense hasn’t necessarily been a strength for Miami under Al Golden, but the Hurricanes delivered with a clutch performance in Saturday night’s 22-10 win over Duke.
Miami held the Blue Devils to its lowest output of the 2014 season, allowed just 3.5 yards per play and forced three turnovers. The 3.5 mark is the fewest yards per play allowed in an ACC game by the Hurricanes since 2011 (Georgia Tech).
Improving the defense was a priority for Golden after an embarrassing effort in 2013. Miami allowed 26.8 points per game (10th in the ACC) and 5.7 yards per play (12th in ACC).
The early returns were positive, as the Hurricanes held their first three opponents to 4.7 yards or fewer per play.
However, in last week’s 41-31 loss to Nebraska, Miami was dominated at the line of scrimmage, allowing the Cornhuskers to rush for 343 yards and score 41 points.
Shades of last year’s defense against Nebraska prompted criticism once again for Miami coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, and the matchup against Duke was critical to establish the direction of this unit in the heart of ACC play.
In addition to holding the Blue Devils to just 10 points and 3.5 yards per play, Miami forced punts on seven of Duke’s first eight possessions and held David Cutcliffe’s offense to just two third-down conversions on 16 attempts. Only two drives for the Blue Devils lasted longer than 50 yards, and the rushing attack was limited to 3.4 yards per carry.
Perhaps Duke isn’t as good on offense as it showcased through the first four games, and the Hurricanes still have to play Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Florida State, so the defense doesn’t have an easy path the rest of the year.
D’Onofrio entered 2014 on the hot seat, and if this coaching staff is going to succeed in Coral Gables, the defense has to take a step forward. So far, so good. But the upcoming schedule is certainly going to test the defense, especially against Florida State and Cincinnati.
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Week 5 wrapped up the first month of the college football season, but Saturday night’s
game against Duke was a critical one for Miami. The Hurricanes already lost to Louisville and an 0-2 hole in the Coastal Division is tough to rebound from.
There’s very little margin for error among the Coastal Division teams, and Miami’s improving defense is a good sign for its hopes of finally winning the division and playing for the conference title in December.