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Trying to decipher coach Al Golden's explanation of the Canes' defensive struggles, adjustments

Fans want answers.

Reporters want to provide them.

Coaches -- well, they are coaches. And so the process doesn't always work out.

Tuesday, I tossed a question Al Golden's way that I thought was pretty direct and to the point regarding how easy it's become over the years to run on his defense -- even when the opponent makes it clear that's the intention.


Me: Al, your last two losses -- on the road at Nebraska and Georgia Tech -- were against teams that, let's face it, are one-dimensional. Everyone knows Nebraska and Georgia Tech run the ball. Why weren't you guys able to stop it?

Golden: "Okay, so, where Georgia Tech beats you is they beat you on the perimeter, they beat you with the toss play, they beat you when you're not paying attention to the quarterback on the alley and then they beat you on the X play to Smelter, who has three games of 100 yards. That's where they beat you. Now, we have to do a better job stopping the dive. The dive is five times to get 25 yards. Those other plays are one shots. So, there's a lot of little nuances in there we didn't do a good job on there. That they obviously utilized against us. I think the Georgia Tech deal is a lot different than the Nebraska deal. May look the same to you. Completely different. Georgia Tech, whatever calls we make, whatever front, coverage, pressure we use is gone now. It's gone. We use it once a year. Where we lost the game against Georgia Tech is we didn't get off the field on third down. We didn't take the ball away. It's as simple as that. We didn't get off the field on third down when we pushed them into those downs and distances. We didn't take the ball away. If they ran for 285 yards -- and again it's different than Nebraska. Nobody wanted Nebraska to run for that many yards. Trust me. But as you're playing Georgia Tech it's a little bit different. Does that make sense to you?"

Me: Well, not really, but I nodded so you can continue your train of thought.

"Again, I look at those two different things completely different in terms of how you go into the game. There's absolutely no excuse for what happened in Nebraska. Again, I'm responsible for it at the end of the day. Me. But in terms of Georgia Tech, we just didn't do a good enough job and we let some [explosive] runs occur, which we hadn't been letting. The year before we let one big one happen. It hadn't been as big an issue as it was last year."


I'd like to tell you there's an answer to my question. But it doesn't feel like it.

What did I decipher from that?

1. Golden thinks it's unfair to cluster Georgia Tech and Nebraska into the same one-dimensional category because the Yellow Jackets run the triple option and the Cornhuskers run a spread, read option. Never mind the fact Georgia Tech threw it just seven times and ran it 65 times against Miami; and Nebraska ran it 54 times and threw it 13 times.

2. Maybe it's just me, but Golden made it seem like he prefers his defense be chopped up slowly rather than in one big chunk. Thus the reason we see safeties and linebackers playing so far off the ball.

3. Al wants me to trust him.


Veteran Hurricanes reporter and Canesport editor Gary Ferman followed my lead two questions later and directed a more specific question regarding the photos floating around on Twitter of Miami's linebackers and safeties playing well off the ball in certain situations like 3rd and goal from the 2 and 3rd-and-2 at midfield at Georgia Tech.

Ferman: You guys have obviously been struggling and that puts just an incredible microscope on everything you’re doing. Play by play people are looking at it, they’re stopping screens, they’re taking pictures of screens and posting them. In the world of social media now it’s going viral. They’ll look and say, like third and 2 play in both games, in Nebraska and GT, they’ll take a snap screen and they’ll show Denzel Perryman, for example, lined up 7 yards off the ball on third-and-1 or third-and-2 and the play will get converted and obviously that just opens up a snowstorm of critique and criticism and everything else. What would be the explanation for things like that that might be contributing to the struggles that you guys are having in situations like that in getting off the ball on third down. When you loaded up the line of scrimmage in that game the other night you were pretty successful from what I remember in most cases? 

Golden: "So, Denzel’s depth is a function of the defense. So, depending on what we’re doing with our defensive tackles, [Perryman's] first gap may be outside of those guys. So he’s got to get to six yards. He should have never been seven [yards back] in the game, Gary. He was. And we tried to get him to move up during the game. We want him at six yards so he can scrape into the C gap. Any tighter than that and you’re getting cut by the guards constantly all game. If we want to play without a Mike, we can move him up to three yards and he’ll be on the ground the whole game – and I’ve seen teams do that. In terms of the Georgia Tech game, that was designed. He’s designed to be there. And you know the tackles and perhaps one of the OLBs who was blitzing is responsible for the dive. Many times he’s responsible for the dive but there are many times when we’re asking him to scrape fast because one of the OLBs are coming. Gary, I have no idea living in your world what picture [surfing Twitter] that was, but if he was back... I guess what I’m saying to you is we move him back in certain instances because we’re bringing one of the OLBs and that his first gap would be outside the OLB. I don’t know which play you’re talking about, but the last two years we beat that team, whatever, the last three years, running the same stuff. We got takeaways, we got third down stops, we got a fourth-down stop. And the offense in both years was I think 50-percent last year on third down, 60-something the year before out in Atlanta. That makes it a markedly different game, makes it markedly different. You’ve got to beat that team as a team. We didn’t play well enough on defense, we didn’t get off the field on defense and then the offense and special teams didn’t help the defense."


What did I decipher from that response?

1. Miami opted to not make middle linebacker Denzel Perryman primarily responsible for stopping the dive. Their approach was letting outside linebackers try and bring down Georgia Tech B-Back Zack Laskey. Golden felt if they brought Perryman closer to the line of scrimmage he would have been devoured by the Yellow Jackets' center (which he was anyway).

2. Until last Saturday, Golden believes his defensive philosophy against Georgia Tech had worked because UM got turnovers and more third down stops and his offense played better than it did. So basically, he went to war in Atlanta with the same plan he had used in previous years (nevermind the fact Paul Johnson had two weeks to prepare and create new wrinkles) and the Canes were beaten. 


I went on the Joe Rose show Tuesday morning to talk Canes. Here's the link to the interview with Joe.