There’s no question the Miami defense must play better in order for Mark Richt’s first season as the Canes’ head coach to meet expectations. Miami was 11th in the ACC in team defense last year, giving up an average of 404.8 yards per game.
The Canes’ defense was bad enough at home, allowing opponents to run up and down Sun Life Stadium (now Hard Rock Stadium) to the tune of 374.8 yards per game on average. That same defense was awful on the road. Miami’s once-proud defense yielded an average of 430.6 yards per game when not playing on home turf.
Miami was 12th in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 28.2 points per game. Only Syracuse (31) and Virginia (32.2), among ACC teams, gave up more points than the Canes in 2015.
The run defense was especially bad. Miami yielded an average of 201 rushing yards per game. Of the 14 ACC teams, only North Carolina (247.36) allowed more.
That must change in 2016, and veteran senior defensive backs Rayshawn Jenkins and Corn Elder are taking it upon themselves to lead the way. Richt said he has been impressed with the way the seniors have taken leadership roles within the team. He is seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm within the team, a level of motivation that is necessary for a new coaching staff which is trying to change the culture.
“I think they respect each other enough to do that,” Richt said. “It’s early, it’s the first year, I don’t know how many games we’ll win, but we’re working hard and I’m proud of it, in that area.”
Jenkins has stood out in particular as a leader on the Canes’ defense. He said he has seen an improvement in terms of overall performance.
“In my opinion, it’s definitely better than in recent years we’ve been here, but it’s still not where we want it to be. There’s some stuff that we still need to clean up, and we’ll move from there.”
Learning techniques and the little things that go into executing a new system are what Jenkins and the defense are trying to get right before Saturday’s opener. Tackling is one of the bigger improvements over years past.
“There’s no question,” Richt said. “Tackling in the box, most everybody can tackle in the box. It’s when people get out in space when you miss tackles. That’s mostly defensive backs – safeties, corners, somebody has to defeat a block and go close that space and corral that guy and get him on the ground.”
Richt said that he has seen a better attitude towards gang tackling and taking proper angles, just an overall better approach to making open-field tackles.
Jenkins said he agrees that tackling has become a bright spot for this defense.
“We tackle really well,” he said. That and competing. Jenkins said the defense has come a long way and he is taking it upon himself to help the younger players along. They’ll be needed over the long haul of a 12-game schedule.”