« Canes receiver Stacy Coley named co-ACC Rookie of the Week | Main | Golden: Georgia Tech 'a tremendous challenge' for Canes defense »

D'Onofrio likes fact many Hurricanes having a hand in defense's success

Of all the things Mark D'Onofrio seems to be proud of the most when it comes to UM's vast improvements on defense it's the fact so many different players are having a hand in it.

"That's what's going on with our defense. Not one guy is standing out," said D'Onofrio, whose unit came into Monday ranked seventh in scoring defense, 10th in total defense, fourth in turnover margin and 10th in passing efficiency defense.

"You see 16 sacks, but you see [12] guys in on a sack. You see six interceptions and five guys have interceptions. Seven caused fumbles and seven guys caused the fumble. Seven guys recovered it. There's a lot going on. You spread it around. That's a sign guys are unselfish, trying to do their job in the defense."

During UM's struggles in his first two seasons, D'Onofrio often said players were freelancing too often. That led to players blowing gap assignments and running lanes opening up.

That of course is what the Hurricanes can ill-afford to do this week against Georgia Tech, whose flexbone option offense requires sound assignment football to stop.

Sure, UM's defense is much improved. But Georgia Tech's attack (ranked 51st in total offense, 37th in scoring offense) is superior to any offense the Hurricanes have faced this season. Savannah State is an abysmal Football Championship Subdivision program, and FAU ranks 109th in total offense, 104th in scoring; Florida ranks 70th in total offense; 91st in scoring and South Florida ranks 120th in total offense; 118th in scoring.

The good news for UM is that D'Onofrio and the Hurricanes have a strong track record in stopping Paul Johnson's offense. Although UM gave up 287 yards and five TDs a year ago on the ground to the Yellow Jackets, the Hurricanes have done the second-best job in the ACC's Coastal Division slowing Georgia Tech's running game down since Golden's arrival. Only Virginia Tech (188 yard average) has done better than UM (210.5 yards allowed average). The Hokies are 3-0 against Georgia Tech over the last three seasons including last week's 17-10 win.

The magic number it seems is keeping Georgia Tech under 300 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets are 4-11 when they finish under 300 yards rushing since the start of the 2011 season, and 14-2 when they eclipse the 300-yard mark.

"You always run scared. You never sit there and stop [working on it]," said D'Onofrio, who first faced the flexbone option when he was a graduate assistant at Georgia in 2000 when he had to breakdown 20 game films of Johnson's offense at Georgia Southern.

"Obviously you continue to work on it. They do such a good job, find new wrinkles. They do an amazing job. You just run scared and do the best you can.

"I've been part of a lot of staffs that have played it. We played it every year since 2006 when I was at Temple. We played Army, Navy two times a year. Same thing at Rutgers. We played Navy and Army when they were running it. It seems like every year we've had to play it."

D'Onofrio said the returning experience Miami has from last year's win will help.

"Last year the way we were banged up and where we were at -- at that point -- we really had an inexperienced group out there," D'Onofrio said. "[Georgia Tech] had periods where they really did well and we were susceptible to the big play. You definitely hope that the guys coming back, having played that and understanding the scheme and the type of things we want to get done [we are better against it]. We've continued to enhance what we want to do against these guys and have developed a package [for it] because we've got a group of older guys."


> Of UM's 16 sacks this season, D'Onofrio said most have come because of added pressure: "I don't know the number, but there's quite a few of them off the pressure, trying to bring a fifth rusher, a sixth rusher, trying to find an opportunity where you think you can take advantage."

D'Onofrio has said in the past he would prefer to only rush three or four linemen and get to the quarterback.

> Who stood out on game film the most against USF? Backup middle linebacker Raphael Kirby, D'Onofrio said.

"You go back and look at it. He showed up around the ball And he was really physical," D'Onofrio said. "He played with knee bend, base and you saw his explosion. You saw him really play fast."

> A week after looking "rusty" in his first game back from sports hernia surgery, safety Deon Bush had a sack and forced fumble against USF. Is Bush turning the corner?

"I think he is," D'Onofrio said. "Again, he missed so much. He missed a lot of the summer. He missed a lot of training camp. I talked about it last year -- it's the hardest position to play on the defense. It's so demanding. You have to run the show back there. You have to get us in the right call. You have to be able to blitz. You have to be able to cover, play in zone, play man, play in the post. It's a demanding position and you have to see it all. People are hurrying up and they're playing fast and doing different things. You didn't get all those reps everybody else got during the summer or during training camp. It takes time to process it. But he's moving in the right direction."

> Sophomore Tyriq McCord, a pass rusher who has seen an average of 20-25 snaps a game over the last three weeks, has created turnovers in three straight games. But will he have a role Saturday against run-prone Georgia Tech?

"We're still working through everything, but he'll have an opportunity to have a chance to play," D'Onofrio said. "Again, certain guys roles might be different from week-to-week. We have enough depth where you can use different guys in different situations. We'll see how it all plays out.

"He's got a role right now and it's really a third down role. We're looking for him to increase his role and fight for reps on first and second down. Right now he's a third string guy, a flip guy for us. He can play linebacker, can play rush end. So he's doing all those things. He was a recipient of the ball coming to him two times the last two weeks and he caught it, which is good. Obviously he made a great play against Florida, a sack caused fumble late in the game. He's tipped a pass I think. He's been around the ball on the reps that he's gotten. He's limited reps, but good production."