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Grading the Canes - Week 2: Are Canes' defensive woes personnel, D'Onofrio's scheme or both?

Remember last week when Al Golden told his players to savor that win at Boston College? Hope you did, too.

Saturday's 52-13 blowout loss at Kansas State was an eye-opener for Canes fans who didn't take the 500-plus yards BC rolled up as a huge warning that trouble could be on the horizon for defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's unit. Because the Eagles decided it was easier for them to throw against Miami (441 yards on 51 attempts) than run (101 yards on 34 attempts) it temporarily masked what we all feared could be UM's biggest weakness heading into the season -- an inexperienced front seven. 

Kansas State and quarterback Collin Klein quickly reminded us Saturday the entire Canes' defense could use an extreme makeover. He attempted only 11 passes, but still threw for 210 yards and completed nine passes to guys like Curry Sexton (Curry Sexton?) who were flying right past UM's defensive backs. When the Wildcats weren't throwing, they were running right through Miami to the tune of 288 yards on 60 attempts. How bad did it get? UM saw K-State's third string quarterback.

Canes fans can hope for miracles. But I don't suspect Ty Pennington will be telling some driver in front of Greentree Practice Field Monday to "move that bus" -- suddenly revealing seven to eight studs we had no idea were on the team. As Randy Shannon used to joke, there is no college waiver wire either. 

Now, the offense obviously had a few setbacks Saturday. They aren't totally off the hook. But Jedd Fisch's unit hardly makes you as queasy as D'Onofrio's looking ahead to the rest of the season.

No, D'Onofrio doesn't deserve all the blame. He's obviously been put in a position to play a lot of young and inexperienced players. And let's face it, some of them obviously aren't ready or probably are not good enough to be thrown in the fire this quickly. Maybe not ever.

But is this simply a personnel issue? Or, is D'Onofrio not doing a good enough job with his schemes to put his team in a position to succeed -- like having his defensive backs playing so far off in coverage and rarely bringing extra pressure to rush the quarterback? Could guys really be that lost?

For those of you arguing that UM waved good-bye maybe to too many good players from last year's defense, first know that this unit returned five of the eight leading tacklers from a year ago: linebacker Denzel Perryman, safety Vaughn Telemaque, linebacker Jimmy Gaines, defensive end Anthony Chickillo and cornerback Brandon McGee, and also got back linebacker Ramon Buchanan from injury. Defensive tackle Darius Smith started seven games last season.

So those are essentially seven players who played a big role on last year's defense, which finished 45th in total yardage (359.92 yards per game), produced just 23 sacks (59th out of 120 FBS schools) and was among the worst in the country at taking it away (15 turnovers), yet still managed to finish 17th nationally in scoring defense (20.08 points per game).

Could losing Sean Spence (3rd round pick, Steelers), Olivier Vernon (3rd round pick, Dolphins), Ray-Ray Armstrong (booted off the team), Jojo Nicolas (not in the NFL), Marcus Robinson (not in the NFL), Mike Williams (not in the NFL), Andrew Smith (not in the NFL), and a couple of undrafted free agents to make NFL rosters -- Micanor Regis (Falcons practice squad), Adewale Ojomo (Giants), Marcus Forston (Patriots) -- make that big a difference?

Sorry. I'm not buying that entirely. I didn't just mention Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dan Morgan or Vince Wilfork did I? Except for Spence, most of the guys gone from last year's defense hardly did anything big when they were here. So, this defense isn't entirely devoid of contributors from a unit that hardly looked as bad in 2011 as they have in their first two games (84 points, 1,035 yards, 4.1 rushing, 325.5 a game passing, 14 of 25 on 3rd down).

With that, we'll move onto the grades:

> Play/Player of the Game: Since this will always be given to a UM player even in defeat, I'll give this week's award to the only guy who got in the end zone for the Canes -- tight end Clive Walford. He finished with three catches for 61 yards including a 56-yard catch and run to the Kansas State 10-yard line with UM down 14-0. I felt the turning point in the game happened moments later when UM had to settle for a field goal instead of getting in the end zone. Had UM scored six there, who knows if something changes.

> Offense: D. Not a lot of positive this week when all the Canes mustered was six points before garbage time. The most disappointing offensive play of the game for me was when Stephen Morris scampered toward the end zone only to get pushed out of bounds at the three yard line late in the third quarter. Sure, UM was down 31-6 at the time, but Mike James has to make a block on that play when it's just him and a safety. He didn't. Showed me a lack of want to -- especially on 4th down. As for the rest, freshman Duke Johnson had six carries for 19 yards and couldn't generate the magic he had last week. Wasn't all his fault. UM ran for just 40 yards on 29 carries and couldn't generate a running game or protect Morris, who despite going 19 of 26 for 215 yards, was sacked five times. Some of those sacks were his fault for not getting rid of the ball. But after a stellar week 1 performance, the offensive line looked human and error prone. Right guard Brandon Linder was hit with flags twice. Left tackle Malcolm Bunche got beat on a sack that led to a fumble. Who looked better? The receivers. Only drops I saw were from Duke Johnson, who had three. That's a good sign especially since we don't know how long Allen Hurns could be out. He looked good early with two catches for 32 yards, but never returned with what FX reported as concussion like symptoms. Seantrel Henderson entered the game early in the third quarter when freshman Ereck Flowers limped off with an injury. Interested to see how Henderson graded out and how banged up Flowers really is. 

> Defense: F. That's not for fantastic either. Instead of going over all the bad things that happened, we'll highlight the few good things. Brandon McGee made a wonderful leaping interception, showing us some life in coverage. Redshirt freshman Eddie Johnson once again was all over the field making tackles. He finished with seven. Anthony Chickillo produced the team's first sack (albeit a coverage sack). And Shayon Green led the team with eight tackles. Problem for UM is Green, who now leads the team with 15 tackles, makes most of his tackles downfield after the defense has already been gashed.

> Special teams: C-. Took a step back this week. Outside of Duke Johnson's 77-yard kickoff return that led to UM's only score late in the fourth quarter, the Canes were pinned inside their own 20 three times and didn't get past the 25 otherwise on kick returns. Kansas State, meanwhile, had a couple nice returns on kickoffs and punts. Jake Wieclaw hit a pair of chip-shot field goals, but booted the opening kickoff out of bounds. Dalton Botts had four punts for an average of 40 yards, but his first one after the start of the second half went just 29 yards and gave Kansas State excellent field position at their own 29. UM could have used a boomer inside the 20.

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