« New Miami Hurricanes Depth Chart for Bethune-Cookman game just released -- and there are changes | Main | UM-Georgia Tech set for a 3 p.m. kickoff on Sunshine; other Canes notes »

When it comes to fixing UM's defense D'Onofrio is thinking long term, not immediate

Here is the longer version of my story set to run in Tuesday's paper.

They rank 109th in pass defense and scoring defense, 89th against the run and 114th in total defense out of 120 teams in major college football.

Hurricanes assistant head coach Mark D’Onofrio is well aware just how awful his unit has looked. UM has given up 1,000-plus yards and 84 points through its first two games. The Canes haven't been lit up like this since they were coming off probation in 1998.

UM fans have roasted him on the radio and on internet message boards. Former Canes -- like Clinton Portis, Warren Sapp and Calais Campbell -- have taken to Twitter to express their embarrassment.

"I can't worry about any of that right now,” D’Onofrio said Monday of the criticism he’s received since Saturday’s 52-13 loss at Kansas State. “The only fans I need to worry about are my wife and my kids. As long as they still like me, I am in good shape."

Here’s something that might make UM fans like D'Onofrio a little less: he didn't offer any quick fix remedies Monday. Instead, he basically asked for more patience, and compared Miami's defensive mess to a reclamation project, like the ones he undertook as a linebackers coach at Rutgers and then as defensive corodinator at Temple with Al Golden.

There, D’Onofrio mixed what little talent he inherited with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Eventually, the garbage was weeded out, and the defenses improved. With 17 freshmen and sophomores on the Canes' two deep on defense, the plan here is essentially the same.

"Go back and look at his statistics; His statistics say it all," Golden said of D'Onofrio. "We finished 17th against the score last year, 15th the year before at Temple. Again, is it what we want right now? No. But who is more upset than we are?

"I appreciate everybody's passion, but there were too many players out of position and too many plays we didn't execute, and too many times where we just didn't have 11 guys doing their job [Saturday at Kansas State]. We always look at ourselves as coaches first so we know what we need to calm down and what we need to call more of and what we need to eliminate based on what we're seeing."

"There's no panic button right now. We're in it for the long haul. We'll get this fixed. I've seen this before. I've seen this drill before, trust me."

As for the immediate future – including this Saturday’s home opener against Bethune-Cookman – D'Onofrio said he's trimming the rotation. Golden said 26 players have gotten into games on defense.

"It is not going to be like Pop Warner football where everybody gets in," D'Onofrio said.

“We have a base line to go off of good, bad or indifferent,” D’Onofrio said. “We have some guys that are playing well. We have some guys that haven't rose to the occasion. And we have some guys that are playing like their youth. A few more guys came to battle this week. I though [freshman safety] Deon Bush played well. [Junior safety] A.J. Highsmith played well. [Redshirt freshman linebacker] Eddie Johnson played well. We’ll just keep trying to building our team.

“I am sure Al has spoken about it, 17 of the two deep are freshmen or sophomores and the juniors are Shayon Green, Kacy Rodgers, and A.J. Highsmith. And you have seen how much they have played. That's where we're at. That's no excuse. But when we get this thing turned it is going to be turned for a while. We're working to get it turned. When we get it turned, there is going to be nobody leaving the team for a while and that is what we are working on what we are trying to do."

As for practice, the focus has turned to the basics. Coaches are preaching: fill the right gap and wrap up. The playbook? D’Onofrio said he has simplified his defense and kept the plays he knows his unit can execute. The rest get thrown out.

“My general rule of thumb is that if we aren't running it well by the end of Wednesday, I throw it out,” D’Onofrio said. “Just leave that burden off them. I try to keep it as tight as I can with this group.”

Unfortunately, D’Onofrio can’t do the same to the offenses UM is facing. D’Onofrio admitted Kansas State, a veteran team loaded with juniors and seniors, baffled the Canes’ last Saturday with different formations and personnel packages.

“I think the multitude of formations right now has guys seeing a lot,” D’Onofrio said. “The next time they see it, hopefully they play it better."

If there were encouraging signs from Saturday's loss, D'Onofrio said, it's that his players didn't quit.

"I have been in games like that where you get manhandled and guys lay down," D'Onofrio said. "We tried to put it on their fullback. We tried to put it on their quarterback. There were guys trying to be physical. I am encouraged by that."

Comments