CORAL GABLES -- UM coach Al Golden spoke to reporters at his weekly press conference for about 30 minutes Tuesday and as usual was brutally honest about his team's struggles.
How brutal? Well, after saying Sunday the offense would likely have to score 30 points a game or more for his team to win games, Golden said his defense (ranked 82nd overall, 97th versus the run and 50th in scoring) is running about as simple a scheme as you can get.
"It's so simple that we can't go simpler than we're going right now," Golden said. "I don't have any doubt we'll be able to do more in the future. But for us to operate at 100 percent right now on defense, we can't install 100 percent [of what coaches want to do]. That's a function of transition [to a new system], a function of playing young guys.
"The reality of it is we have enough talent that if everybody plays the same call, has the right gap and we play as a unit we'll be okay. Will we be dominating right now? No. We have to take the ball away, be good on third down, red zone. There is no excuse right now. We are what we are. And if we're going to improve from last week we better stop freelancing in some areas we're freelancing. They run a post pattern into post coverage [for a 60-yard TD] and it scores. We were so badly out of place that they score. Those are the things we need to fix, everybody on the same page."
The Hurricanes have sustained quite a few injuries and have been hurt by suspensions on defense. The Canes has been so decimated and hell-bent on trying to solve their woes, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said Tuesday his unit has actually rotated 28 players in at different spots in five games.
Linebacker Sean Spence said the Canes, who ranked 22nd in total defense, 84th versus the run, third versus the pass and 27th in scoring defense in 2010, were nowhere near that total last year.
"It was 12, maybe 14 guys who really played for us on defense most of last year," Spence said. "I know I didn't come off the field at all. The new system they brought in I think is better at getting guys experience, allowing them to play and keep guys fresh. But we just haven't had any real consistency."
That of course hasn't been by design. D'Onofrio would prefer to have a much smaller rotation. Golden said Tuesday he would have preferred to redshirt his entire freshman class. But injuries and suspensions have taken their toll, hurting chemistry and putting players into games that simply aren't ready.
"There hasn't' been a lot of consistency from Week 1 [with personnel]," Golden said. "If Armstrong had been playing three weeks ago, he might be able to make a play on that play [on that 60-yard touchdown pass versus Virginia Tech] and it just happened to be in a money game. We're dealing with that in a lot of different places right now and we're going to deal with it again next week when Olivier [Vernon] comes back. Hopefully if everybody stays healthy that will be the last of it.
Still, Spence said, the defense can't make excuses for their past failures. Spence said players have had since the spring to get learn D'Onofrio's defense and players simply aren't executing what they've been taught.
"I don't think guys are confused. I think they know the defense. They just make mistakes. We have breakdowns," Spence said. "You can see a lot of great things on film. We just have breakdowns at the wrong time and it makes the defense look bad."
So what are the improvements Spence has noticed on film? "Little things. Strip attempts. Everybody running to the ball. Being physical on tackles. The things we do in practice is finally starting to show up in games," Spence said. "We have to fix those little things or make that one play to get off the field and we'll win the game."
MORE NOTES FROM TUESDAY
> Even though former offensive tackle Jermaine Johnson is taking snaps on defense in drills, two sources said Tuesday not to expect to see Johnson on the field unless it is "a complete emergency." Although UM has moved three former defensive linemen -- Dyron Dye, Jeremy Lewis, and David Perry -- to offense, Golden reiterated he plans to leave them there and give true freshman Corey King playing time at the battered defensive tackle spot.
“Perry, he's an end, not quite big enough for a 3 technique," Golden said. "I like what I’ve seen with Corey King recently so I would rather go that way so that we’re building and playing with someone that’s going to be in the program for quite some time” Golden said. "Corey is very strong, at 26 or 27 reps of 225 as a freshman, which is elite strength. He's 285 and he plays with leverage."
The issue for King, Golden said: “He doesn’t know whether the ball is pumped or stuffed, but other than that, he’s okay."
Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin said of King: "He's strong, extremely strong for a kid his age. He's strongly mature, if that's a word. He's still learning the position and what have you. But he has things you can't teach, bend, strength, flexibility and he has good knowledge of the position. I'm real excited for him."
As it stands, expect Micanor Regis, Darius Smith, Adewale Ojomo (Golden said he expects him to be okay for North Carolina) and Olsen Pierre -- back from injury -- to get the bulk of the snaps at tackle.
> Golden can't talk about the team's recruiting efforts specifically, but he put out a pretty clear Help Wanted advertisement Tuesday: "Given the number of older guys we have I don't see us wholesale redshirting for a couple of years. Even next year; this class is going to be ginormous because we're losing a lot of guys. I don't see us redshirting a lot of guys in the near future. If you're a young guy and you want to play for a top 40 institution, in the defensive line , linebacker and secondary there's great opportunity to come here and play early."
Does Golden care what his class ends up being ranked? Not really. In fact, don't be shocked if a lot of no-names end up in UM's class (in part because of the losing and because of the NCAA sanctions).
"Everybody says put a fence up and all that, but if we're going to take 20-25 kids a year we have to make sure we get the right 25," Golden said. "The thing I'm most proud of that we did at Temple is (A) we developed players and (B), didn't listen to anybody. Because they weren't supposed to be any good, any of them. And we got guys that fit our system that we believed in. We got the right guys. You have to get the right 20, can't just get any 20. Because what we did at Temple is we selected well. If you look at our percentages, we selected well based on our returns."
> Lamar Miller may be ranked third in the country right now in rushing, but that means little to Golden. He thinks Miller has a long way to go in terms of development.
"I think the young man knows that," Golden said. "He knows there's another level for him in terms of his mental toughness, in terms of conditioning. You can name the guys -- we defended all of them through the years. Thomas Jones had this incredible approach to his body as his greatest asset, to his off the field makeup, to his longevity, to his ability to stay healthy. Lamar's not there yet.
"Lamar ran one way against Ohio State and against Virginia Tech and he two weeks in there where he was battling bumps and bruises. He hasn't quite developed the stiff arm yet so he's not always taking a shot on the shoulder. Many times he doesn't use the weapon, use [his] hand, get them off your body. Certainly he can improve in pass protection. If he does in prove in pass protection. If he does improve, now he becomes a screen runner, a draw runner, a third down back who is catching a check down in his development. Now, the backfield was full last year. It's a little less full now. He's getting the reps and is developing. He's got a long way to go. What he does well - he can start and stop really well, change direction, can make you miss laterally, is 215, 216 pounds so he can finish runs. He finished runs really well the other day."