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News and notes from Monday: Injury updates, D'Onofrio talks defense, more

With the Hurricanes preparing for the season finale Friday afternoon in chilly Pittsburgh we got our only chance on Monday to talk to players and coaches -- aside from Al Golden -- before the game.

> The big news of the day is that cornerbacks Corn Elder and Nate Dortch are lost for the season. Golden had told us Saturday after the win against Virginia both were significant injuries. He wouldn't elaborate more on Monday, but Elder tweeted that he had a small tear in his meniscus. He was spotted walking around campus on crutches and with his right leg in a large brace.

"Disappointed for both of them because both were really starting to come on and both would have benefitted greatly from the [bowl] preparation moving forward," Golden said. "I also feel badly for Corn because I know he was anxious to play basketball."

Could they be back in time for the spring? "It'll be a couple of months for both of them," Golden said. "I don't want to jump ahead. The doctor is going to see where it's at and hopefully what it is what we believe it is and it will be a couple months' injury for both of them."

The good news? Freshman Artie Burns, who missed the Virginia game with an ankle, "looked really good" Monday according to Golden. 

> Ladarius Gunter, airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital on Saturday with a neck injury, was seen walking around campus in a neck brace. UM is keeping him out this week as he recovers, but there's a strong possibility he will be back for the bowl game. 

"He's around. He has a great attitude," Golden said. "[All the tests] are negative. It's just a function of him getting his confidence back, feeling comfortable and also the doctors clearing him."

> Miami had two 2014 commitments sign and return financial aid agreements on Monday with the school: blue-chip offensive lineman KC McDermott and receiver Braxton Berrios.

The NCAA recently made changes that allow a recruit on track to graduate early from high school to sign a financial-aid agreement as long as the participating college establishes that the player is enrolled in all coursework necessary to graduate high school at the midyear point.

The financial-aid agreement is not the same as a letter of intent, which binds a recruit to a college. The financial-aid agreement commits the university to provide a scholarship, but does not commit the prospect to accept. The benefit for UM? The Hurricanes are no longer restricted by NCAA rules that limit communication with a recruit.

Golden said he couldn't comment on any players who might have signed financial aid agreements because all documentation must first go through compliance and the league office. Golden said he would love to see an early signing day put it place and suggested around the holidays as the window (Dec. 22-Jan. 1).

"In a sense, we're almost circumventing something we've all wanted for a long time, an early signing day," Golden said of the new financial aid agreements. "It's kind of there. To some extent [this] does allow that to transpire. But I would be in favor of an early signing day. Fiscally it's the right thing to do. For all of us as institutions were going to save a lot of money. It clears up the pool for everybody who is a member institution.

> UM signed three fifth-year transfers last off-season: punter Pat O'Donnell and defensive linemen David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow.

Will Golden continue to take fifth-year senior transfers? Not if he doesn't have to.

"I want to get back to conventional recruiting," he said. "We would like to be back to manage our numbers and going through a normal recruiting cycle. This one, the penalty is already factored into this one. Next year, 2015, is the first one we won't have anything to deal with [in terms of the NCAA investigation]."

> Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said Miami's tackling effort against Virginia was the best performance of the season for his unit. They graded out at 93 percent. UM had graded out at 79 and 78 percent in its two previous losses to Virginia Tech and Duke.

"We're still a work in progress, fighting for consistency," D'Onofrio said. "They obviously ran for more yards than we wanted to. But at the end of the day we played almost 99 plays. You're going to have yards.

Virginia tallied 483 yards against UM, but 147 of those came on the final three drives of the game with UM already up 38-20 and playing a lot of prevent defense.

"The last three series we were playing soft the whole time," D'Onofrio said. "It's my job not to give up a bomb at that point and let them back in the game. We were getting there, hitting the quarterback, hitting him with a four-man rush and trying not to give up something deep. The snuck some runs in there, did some things. But you can't sit here and worry about the yards. You got to worry about the game. It's a play-by-play basis.

D'Onofrio said he thought Luther Robinson, Curtis Porter, Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre "were stout" along Miami's defensive line Saturday.

"To answer your question it wasn't them," D'Onofrio said of Miami's early struggles against Virginia (203 rushing yards).

> Gilbert, who returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown, admitted he was disappointed with how little he played early in the season and actually approached defensive line coach Jethro Franklin about more playing time after getting in on only seven snaps against Wake Forest.

"David played his best game. He gave us something, gave us some energy," D'Onofrio said. "He looked like he had a little more twitch to him. He was moving around a little bit better, gave us something in the pass rush game. We created some competition over there. Quan [Muhammad] went into the game before him. When he got his chance to go in the game he made something out of it. That's what competition does."

> D'Onofrio said sophomore outside linebacker Tyriq McCord did well with his expanded role Saturday (the first time all season he was in on first and second downs). But D'Onofrio said McCord still has a couple things he needs to improve on.

"He earned the right to get in there. He's got big play ability and he has the right tools to really be good in this defense," D'Onofrio said. "He's just got to make his mind up daily that he's got to improve, which he's done the last couple of weeks I don't see any reason [he won't]. He's got a world of potential and he's continuing to improve. Being able to play all those guys helped us."

> Offensive coordinator James Coley, whose unit produced only 304 yards (third fewest this season behind Florida and Florida State), said the Hurricanes left a lot of plays out on the field against the Cavaliers.

Miami has struggled on third down over their last four games, going a combined 17 of 52 (32.6 percent). UM's third-down conversion percentage this season (37.6) is slightly down from a year ago (39.4).

"It's been a tough deal the last couple weeks," Coley said. "We just got to execute. We got to do a better job. It starts with me. I got to do a better job coaching."

Quarterback Stephen Morris didn't have his best game either against Virginia.

"Sometimes when the weather is bad you got to overcome those things, make your plays and trust your teammates," Coley said. "I love his attitude. I love the way he's approaching practice, the message he's giving the younger guys with regards to here's where we're going; this is what's facing. He's been very professional and business like. I love it. I like where his mind is at."

> Coley remains hopeful receiver Phillip Dorsett will play this week, but cautioned Miami's practice Monday was light. "He looked good running out there," Coley said. "We'll find out more [Tuesday] when things heat up."

> Coley said freshman receiver Stacy Coley, one of only three receivers to catch a pass in Saturday's win, has really matured as the season has gone on.

"He's a smart guy. He processes when you're either criticizing or you're coaching him or hard on him," James Coley said. "He's not listening to how you're delivering your message. He's actually listening to what you're saying. Smart players do that. They get past the other stuff. That's where he's improved."

> Cornerback Tracy Howard was named the ACC's Co-Defensive Back of the Week. UM has now had eight different players honored by the ACC in its weekly awards.

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