CORAL GABLES -- UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio didn't have a great first half. But he started the second half of the season with a bang -- shutting down one of the nation's most potent rushing attacks and scoring offenses in Georgia Tech on Saturday.
He called the team's defensive performance against the Yellow Jackets "gratifying." While he said he didn't care ultimately how many yards Georgia Tech ran for, his goal was to eliminate "the explosive plays," "cheap touchdowns," and "make them drive." Georgia Tech's longest run from scrimmage was 11 yards. The Yellow Jackets' longest pass was 17 yards. So, mission accomplished.
"We tackled really well -- at the 90 percentage, which is our goal, which isn't easy. That's the second time we did that (Ohio State was the other)," D'Onofrio said.
"The biggest thing I took away from that game was how hard we played, our finish grade. This is the game where we had our least amount of loafs -- where guys weren't running to the ball hard. We finished plays with toughness and we tackled well. Those two things are indicative of what type of defense you have. You can throw everything else out the window if you can control those things and those are things you control. No penalties, finish and tackle well. Those are prerequisites. Those core things we've been trying to dictate since we got here. Those showed up Saturday."
D'Onofrio said he put Sean Spence at middle linebacker in part because he wanted him to be able to cover both sides of the field. "[Denzel] Perryman was playing the strongside and Jimmy [Gaines] played weak. I was trying to get a faster lineup out there based on what they did in the perimeter," he said.
"If you look at the stat line and you look at the amount of guys who got snaps in the game, a lot of starters didn't have to play 60-70 plays, they played 40 plays become somebody got in behind them and played 20. That's why we played fresh and why I think we played at that high finish level. The more guys we can play that can execute, the better off we're going to be."
> UM coach Al Golden wasn't happy starting right tackle Jonathan Feliciano injured himself Saturday celebrating Lamar Miller's 14-yard touchdown run right before the half. But he isn't about to start teaching his guys how to party after a touchdown either.
"If I got to coach the celebration now, we're in trouble," Golden joked. "We should have a no air policy for our offensive linemen."
Feliciano remains doubtful for Thursday's game against Virginia in Golden's words. Feliciano is wearing a boot on his left foot. He was injured after leaping up and landing awkwardly on a teammate. Tight end Chase Ford was apparently Feliciano's intended target of a chest bump that never happened.
"That was scary," quarterback Jacory Harris said. "I was actually running in the end zone with Mongo and Seantrel [Henderson] right next to me. And I see [Feliciano] go up in the air and come down, so I thought he tripped. And me and Seantrel are trying to pick him up and we just hear him saying `Ahh!' We got scared, but he'll be okay. I'm pretty sure he'll fight through it."
> Golden seemed pretty happy junior Darius Smith played well enough Saturday to possibly knock Micanor Regis out of a starting job. "You can create competition, but when other guys see it on film, that's real competition," Golden said. "Darius is going to be tough to supplant in there now. He's going to compete."
As for the state of his defensive line, consider Golden a happy camper now that there are more healthy and able bodies around. "We're as deep right now as we have been since Aug. 13 or 14," he said.
> The reason Ray-Ray Armstrong hasn't taken the safety job totally away from JoJo Nicolas is because he's still taking too many chances.
"I think he's progressed," D'Onofrio said of Armstrong. "I think he's practicing better. I think he's more confident back there. But the biggest thing right now is not trying to do too much. He's a guy who has playmaking ability, but we keep trying to preach the plays will come. Guys got a chance to make plays by doing their job, letting plays come to them. Everybody shines when that happens -- not when guys try to go out of their way to make a play or go outside of what their job description is on that play. That's really what we need from Ray."
> The reason we didn't see more of freshmen Olsen Pierre at defensive tackle before he provided two tackles Saturday? Apparently, a bum ankle.
"He's kind of been nursing it all the way through," D'Onofrio said. "We really haven't seen him play up to his capability. What we saw on Saturday was a little glimpse of what he could do. He played with a better pad level, played with a better get-off, played with a better motor. He took some steps in that regard."