"60 minutes of assignment football." That's what coach Randy Shannon said the challenge will be for his defense this week as it prepares to face one of the nation's top rushing teams in chilly Atlanta Thursday night. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have won three straight games against the 23rd-ranked Canes -- all by close margins. But the team Miami will face this time around won't be anything like the Georgia Tech teams UM has faced lately.
First-year coach Paul Johnson, who built Georgia Southern into a national champion and Navy into a winner before making the move to Atlanta with his Triple Option Attack, has created another rushing machine at Georgia Tech. And opponents just can't seem can't to get a handle on it. U remember the days when Miami used to eat option-based rushing teams for dinner. Nebraska and Oklahoma tried it for years in big matchups with the Canes with little success. But Canes fans shouldn't get confused. This attack isn't exactly the same as the Wishbone according to Shannon, who described it during his Monday press conference as more of the rushing offense Arkansas used to run with former Steelers running back Barry Foster in the early 1990s.
Miami has tried to mimic the offense this week with the scout team. Walk-on Devon Hill, a former star quarterback in New Jersey, and sophomore Damien Berry are playing the role of Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt (6-1, 214) and fullback Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 228). But even Shannon admitted it's not going to be easy to replicate what Georgia Tech does on Thursday in practice this week and could take the Canes some time to adjust in-game.
"There's no science to it," Shannon said. "If guys are doing their job and playing assignment football you'll be successful. Every now and then someone's going to get cut, be on the ground. So you have to have other guys chasing to over-compensate. You have to have everybody chasing the football. If you don't, you're going to have a tough time."
One advantage the Canes have though is that this isn't all brand new to them. UM has been preparing for it the past few weeks. Defensive line coach Clint Hurtt told me his defense first began seeing it during UM's recent bye week. Although most guys were seeing it for the first time in their careers that week, Sean Spence and Marcus Forston said they've at least played against it, when they played Lake Brantley in the Class 6A state championship game for Miami Northwestern two years ago.
The problem is Georgia Tech is probably the best football team in the country at running the triple option. Dwyer, who bullies the ball up the middle, leads the ACC in rushing with 1,056 yards and has eight touchdowns this season. He's averaging 6.6 yards a carry. Josh Nesbitt is the team's second leading rusher with six touchdowns and 62.2 yards rushing a game. That's just six yards fewer a game than Graig Cooper. Shannon said there is no way his team is going to hold Georgia Tech to fewer than 100 yards rushing this week.
There's a key, though, to stopping it. Shannon said to be successful, Miami will have to get off the field on third down (something its done well in its last five games) and create turnovers. Fumbles have been a problem for Georgia Tech. In the games they've lost (28-7 to North Carolina, 24-17 to Virginia and 20-17 to Virginia) the Yellow Jackets coughed the ball up at least twice in those games. Shannon said he's made sure the focus for Miami in practice this week has been on tackling high. "The quarterback is going to carry the ball high in the option," Shannon said. "So every time we tackle them this week it's up high, grabbing the arms. That's where most of the turnovers are coming. When you have an opportunity to get on the football, you have to."
> While it's still unknown if freshman Travis Benjamin will be available to play this week, there's no doubt teams have figured out a way to neutralize The Blur and Miami's return game. Since the North Carolina game, Miami has a combined 76 yards on 14 punt returns. In the UNC and Texas A&M games alone, Benjamin had 108 yards on five returns. Shannon said teams are now getting more hangtime on the ball on punts and kicking it shorter to avoid returns. Miami finally adjusted last week against Virginia Tech, going with two guys back on most returns.
"Whichever way you go at least we have an opportunity to return the football," Shannon said. "When we put two guys back they kicked out of bounds. We have to come up with something to get the ball in those guys' hands."
> Defensive coordinator Bill Young is 62-years old, but he isn't out of touch with the latest hip hop. Last week as Miami was preparing to play Virginia Tech, Young was asked by linebackers coach Micheal Barrow during a team meeting what his favorite song was. "Coach Young busted out, I Put On For My City," freshman defensive tackle Forston said with a chuckle Monday. "The whole room went crazy. It got us pumped up. When everybody is in the meeting room, quiet, he always says something to take our mind off it. He always has something funny to say. You never know which Coach Young will be out on the football field."
> Freshman defensive end Marcus Robinson earned Defensive Line Player of the Week honors in the ACC this week for his three sack, seven tackle performance. Kicker Matt Bosher was selected Special Teams Player of the Week. It's a bit of a surprise for Bosher that's he's only been selected once for the award.
> POST PRACTICE UPDATE... Just wanted to share with you it looks like a go for left tackle Jason Fox, who saw his 22-game starting streak snapped against Virginia Tech. Fox said he expects to play against Georgia Tech with a brace on his heavily taped right ankle. "The last couple of days I've been running around and it feels pretty good," Fox said. Receiver Travis Benjamin supposedly practiced "a lot more" than he did Sunday according to Shannon. UM's official injury report will be released Tuesday morning.