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Lovett defends Spence, takes blame for struggles

The numbers aren't pretty. Through three games, the University of Miami defense has looked bad more often than it has looked good against three nationally ranked opponents. Canes fans want to know where the pass rush has been hiding, when the turnovers are going to start happening and when reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Sean Spence is going to start playing like he did a year ago.

Sean Spence has 14 tackles through three games and ranks sixth on the team.

Wednesday, defensive coordinator John Lovett faced all those questions and concerns and defended his sophomore strongside linebacker rather passionately.

"You ever have a bad day? Unless everybody here in this circle is perfect, we're talking about the wrong thing," Lovett said referring to Spence. "I didn't do a good job coaching and we didn't good job last week. I got to do a better job getting them ready to play and the kids got to respond and play. 

"You can talk about turnovers, you can talk about missed tackles, you can talk about Sean Spence. As a unit we have to play well. Sean is not just going to make plays by himself. What happens is he takes advantage of other people around him playing well. If he's doing his job, somebody else might make a play. And if they're doing their job, he'll have an opportunity to make plays. It's a team game. There are 10 other guys out there with him, that's how we coach."

Spence, who has fewer tackles on the team this season than Sam Shields, talked some Tuesday about what's been going wrong for him this year (I'll have a feature on him in Friday's paper). But one thing that's become obvious about the undersized 6-0, 212-pounder from Miami Northwestern is that he's become a bigger focus of opposing teams.

"I don't know if its a sophomore slump," Lovett said. "A lot of people know about him, so they're accounting for him. I think everybody's expecting him to put an 'S' on his chest and be the man on every single play. I think last year he showed up a lot because you didn't know who he was. He's not as productive as you all think he needs to be and I think he needs to be. But he's playing well and playing within the scheme and doing OK."

What's not OK in Lovett's eyes -- besides UM's poor tackling -- has been the lack of a pass rush (UM has four sacks in three games) and the inability to create turnovers (the defense has one fumble recovery and one interception). Creating turnovers and creating pressure are two things Lovett said will be huge for Miami against the eighth-ranked Sooners.

"We're a four man front. If they're not playing well, we're not going to play well as a defense. That's the bottomline," Lovett said. "Last week, nobody played well. It was very obvious. But before that I thought they did pretty well. We played pretty decent in the Florida State game, up front against the run until the fourth quarter when we let two out of the game. Last week, obviously was a disaster. Bad game planning by me and we didn't play very hard."

Our Susan Miller Degnan will be all over those last two topics -- with some special insight from defensive line coach Clint Hurtt who gave us an exclusive interview. Look for her story Thursday.

> For the complete audio interview with Lovett visit our UM audio page.

Randy Phillips

> R. PHILLIPS COULD PLAY SATURDAY: It's looking more and more like UM won't be without safety Randy Phillips against Oklahoma after all. UM's second leading tackler, who injured his forearm against Virginia Tech and left the game for good late in the first half, practiced full-go Wednesday according to coach Randy Shannon. Usually, if players don't practice by Wednesday, they don't play on Saturday.

Phillips is obviously motivated to play in this game because he was lit up by the Sooners and Sam Bradford two years ago. He actually was switched from corner to safety after being beat on two scores. Shannon said Phillips return means a lot to the team too. Shannon said he just doesn't want to see the team's emotional leader play out of control.

"[This game] means more to him because of situations he was put in a couple of years ago [when] they got a couple of passes on him," Shannon said. "He felt like he let the team down. But, like I told him, `Don't make it a revenge factor. Make it something you learn from, learn how you got beat and what you have to get done.' I told him you have to come out and play the game and be smart about it. But if you go out there with a little revenge factor - mad, angry, upset - most of the time people make mistakes, say something wrong, do something wrong when they're angry. Me and him talked about it - now he understands the whole big picture."

> PUNT RETURN CHANGES IN STORE?: One of the biggest problems for the Hurricanes this season has been generating big changes in field position on punt returns.

UM actually ranks among the nation's worst with only a 2-yard punt return average. "Everyone's kicking to the left hash and it's going out of bounds - they're not giving us a chance to do what we need to do," Shannon said. "So we have some things we worked on in practice to (negate) those things they're trying to do, where we can field it. The biggest thing is trying to field the football."

Don't be surprised if you see the Canes line up with two return men on Saturday.

> LIVE CHAT: I couldn't make it in time for our live chat Tuesday at 2 since I've been pulling double duty this week by helping cover the big St. Thomas Aquinas-Byrnes showdown. I also know a few of you had trouble placing your questions into the chat. If you want, try again. I'm going to spend some time this afternoon answering whatever questions are there or posted here. 

> MEDIA MAYHEM: Almost forgot. I don't think I'll be asking Orlando Franklin for any interviews any time soon. We requested Franklin this morning and he blew reporters off with some colorful language when approached by UM's sports information staff. "[Forget] those guys," Franklin said. 

It wasn't the first time a UM player was upset with the media. After Saturday's game, quarterback Jacory Harris lost his cool with a Virginia Tech reporter, who asked him four times if the rain was a factor. On the last try, Harris finally said "You must be a reporter from Virginia Tech aren't you?"