The Miami Hurricanes were back out at Greentree Field Tuesday morning for their first practice since Saturday night's deflating 41-31 loss at Nebraska as they began preparing for this weekend's important showdown with defending Coastal Division champion Duke (4-0).
Coach Al Golden, who gave the team a day off on Monday to rest and recover, didn't speak with reporters but was there to coach his team in the morning. He left the school shortly after practice to be with his family. Golden has been dealing with a family emergency since the team returned from Lincoln in the wee hours Sunday morning.
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said Golden has been at UM everyday since the team returned from Lincoln. Golden will have his weekly press conference, usually scheduled for Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Al’s a professional and he’s going through something right now, but he does a great job of being able to continue to get the message across to the team," D'Onofrio said. "At the end of the day, this is our job and there’s a lot of people that depend on us. We have to continue to do everything that we’re doing. So, you know, we got back off the plane and went right back to work and we’ve been working ever since to get ready for this game.”
Most of the questions Tuesday naturally revolved around Miami's defense, which gave up 343 rushing yards in Saturday's loss. Considering Duke scorched Miami for 358 yards on the ground in last year's 48-30 romp in Durham, fixing what went wrong in Lincoln is Miami's top focus this week.
Much like Golden said during his teleconference with the media on Monday, D'Onofrio said Miami's breakdowns were a lack of execution, not scheme.
Despite fans and former players complaining about Miami playing too far off the ball, D'Onofrio, like Golden before him, said coaches called run blitzes and pressures about 60 percent of the time. In the end, Miami netted no tackles for loss against Nebraska. D'Onofrio said there were too many missed tackles to count and "yards after contact were a big issue."
"It comes down to execution and trust in your training," D'Onofrio said. "I can promise you that every call that we make is designed to have somebody make a tackle, behind or at the line of scrimmage. I can promise you everyone of them is designed to do that. We wouldn’t want to change that if that was the design. We've got to get the players to execute better.
"As far as philosophically, we go into a game knowing what we want to stop, and you have to have a free player to stop the guy who has the ball. That’s not going to change. So, as long as that’s sound -- we've got to continue to work through the execution."
Asked why the team can't win big games with the talent it has, D'Onofrio responded: "At the end of the day, talent is not enough. Execution is what you need to have," he said. "I’ve been talking about that here for a long time. You have to execute. If you don’t have a guy in his gap, it doesn’t matter how talented he is. The gap’s open and somebody runs through it. That has nothing to do with talent. Defensive football is about execution. And if a talented player is not in his gap and not doing his job, you get exposed. If a talented player is in his gap and makes the tackle then you don't get exposed. At the end of the day that's what defensive football is about.”
Linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive end Anthony Chickillo both defended D'Onofrio's play-calling saying it's up to the players to execute what he calls.
"Coach D is one of the best football minds I’ve been around," Chickillo said. "He probably is the best football mind. His football IQ is unbelievable and he puts us in the right position to make plays. People just have to make them."
Said Perryman: "Yeah. It's not coach man. I ain't going to lie. I try to ignore the outside noise, but when I hear stuff like that it bothers me a lot. It's not coach, you know. Coach D'Onofrio does a great job putting us in the best [positions] and the best situations where we need to be. It's just us up to execute. Like I said, we had a lot of freelancing going on."
Freelancing was a problem last year against Duke and the Blue Devils, who also run a read option offense, return most of the same players who shredded Miami last season.
"Last year is last year, but at the same time we can't forget about last year," Perryman said. "For me, I know it serves as motivation and I know for a lot of other guys it's the same thing."
D'Onofrio said he believes his players understand the scheme, and are getting coached hard and with great detail.
"I think if you talk to our players right now and you said, 'Hey do you know what you need to do in the scheme? Are you seeing what you need to see?' I think they would tell you 'Yes,'" D'Onofrio said. "But again, at the end of the day, I have to get them to execute that."
Although offensive coordinator James Coley said Tuesday the team is still awaiting word on whether or not players who came off the bench and participated in an on-field skirmish Saturday might be suspended by the ACC, a source told The Miami Herald the matter has already been resolved.
There will be no suspensions because there was no fight on the field, the source said. Miami was penalized with two personal fouls. The ACC reviewed the issue over the weekend.
> Receiver Rashawn Scott was back in a limited yellow practice jersey Tuesday for the first time since injuring his shoulder.
“I’m waiting for him to come back,” Coley told InsideTheU.com. “He’s got to feel comfortable. It wasn’t just that he had it dislocated, it was that they had to surgically go in there, cut, and when you do that it’s always complicated.”
> According to InsideTheU.com, quarterback Brad Kaaya took 87 percent of his snaps in the shotgun at Nebraska. Coley explained why.
"We figured that we could use our speed in the perimeter and we got pretty good at our runs out of the shotgun," he said. "At the time we felt pretty confident we could get ourselves into two or three play checks on the field in the shotgun and it would be fast for the quarterback to see it. Plus, Duke runs the ball really well in the gun as well. He runs the ball pretty well in the i-formation too. He's dual-threat with that. It timed up with where we're at right now."
Coley said Kaaya has been asking him to give him more and more from the playbook week-to-week.
"I think you can't force your hands on players and force them to do things they can't do," Coley said. "I think as guys are able to do things you expand and you're able to throw more at them. It's kind of like how big is your bucket? I think 15 has done a great job. He's part of all this. To this point, he's like I want more. And he can handle it. He really can."
> Coley said Duke Johnson will continue to get the same workload he's been receiving -- even after his costly fumble at Nebraska. "He made a lot of big plays in that game as well," Coley said. "He had over 170 yards or something and made tons of plays. I told him to keep his head up. He's going to have those same opportunities every week because he's a great player. He's very conscious of ball security."
> Miami's offensive coordinator said receiver Stacy Coley's shoulder is better, but what has to improve is his ability to get open. "He came out here today and he was flying around. He looked really good today," James Coley said. "He's just got to get uncovered."
> Defensive tackle Michael Wyche didn't play at Nebraska. "We are trying to continue to get him ready and develop him," D'Onofrio said. "We are getting him reps during the week. I think he is in better shape and he has improved every week. Now it is about has he improved enough to go into a game like that? He is moving in the right direction with his conditioning. He just has to continue to improve."
> I made an appearance on the Marc Hochman show with Zack Krantz on WQAM this afternoon to talk Canes football. Here is the link to the audio from it.