One of the most telling factoids I found in my research for the game Saturday is that Miami only had one player that garnered any postseason recognition on it's defense. It also stood out to me that the defense will only start three players on defense that were rated as 4 or 5 star talents coming out of high school. The NCAA issues Miami has been dealing with have really impacted the level of talent Miami has been able to land and it shows most on the defensive side of the ball. This defense has gashed all season and it will really have to step up for the final game of the season if it wants to stop Teddy and his deep group of receivers.
Miami's base defense is a 4-3 over with the ability to switch to a 3-4. They can line up with 4 good sized defensive linemen with with their hand on the ground or defensive end Shayon Green can play standing up. Miami has a lot of different rotation guys that come in for specific packages like Tyriq McCord, who excels at rushing the passer. Instead of rolling out a nickel package when teams have spread them out this year, Defensive Coordinator Mark D'Onofrio likes to go with a 3-4 set with zone blitzes and stunts to get after the quarterback.
I've watched every team Louisville has played this year and I can honestly say that Miami's defense was the hardest to figure out. They do so many different things and none of it seems to work well. They zone blitz. The defensive line stunts in passing situations. They disguise coverages with their corners. They drop defensive tackles into robber zones. It's like a bag of Chex Mix. Defenses typically have a niche. Miami still looks like it's trying to find out what kind of defense they are.
The defensive backfield of Miami does a good job of forcing turnovers. Their corners and safeties can run well and they take advantage of mistakes very well. They can press at the line, but they also do a great job in zone coverage when the quarterback is forced to throw in rhythm. They give a quarterback a certain look and bait him into throwing where he thinks there's an opening and there is always someone there to break on the ball. The issues arise when the opposing quarterback is allowed to sit in the pocket and wait for his deeper options to open up. Too many times this year, receivers are making catches with a linebacker or defensive back trailing behind because they have had the time to run through an open zone. However, there have been plenty of times a corner or linebacker has been waiting for an easy interception because all of the movement has confused a quarterback. It's a catch twenty two.
Miami's lack of penetration from it's defensive line has made it's run defense awful at all three levels. Offenses have been able to open gaping holes which leaves second and third level players in one-on-one situations. That's not ideal for anyone. If you can't gang tackle at the college level your defense will have a lot of missed tackles. It's a ripple effect that has caused tons of issues for Miami. Duke ran for 358 yards a few games back and only lost a total of 12 yards on 52 carries. 10 of those yards came on a sack. The defense was absolutely dominated and it all started up front. Duke backs weren't being touched until they were six or seven yards down the field.
The thing that really stood out to me in that Duke game was that Miami didn't have the depth to respond to what Duke was doing. They couldn't rotate fresh bodies in to try to stop the run. They only have three defensive tackles and all of their backups on defense are young guys that haven't had time to add the bulk needed to compete in the ACC. When things go bad for this defense, they snowball and there's not much D'Onofrio can do to stop it.
Louisville will more than likely look to control the clock in this game. Miami's offense is explosive and Louisville will want to keep them off of the field. The lack of depth on defense also plays into Louisville's hand. Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry will need to have big games for this game to not become a shootout. The emotions of the game will be high with so many players looking to prove themselves against former high school rivals. If Miami's defense is able to gain some confidence it will go a very long way. The quickest way for that to happen is for them to be successful in an area in which they have struggled. If Denzel Perryman and his group of linebackers can get some stops at the line or even behind it, Louisville could be in for a long day.
Louisville's pass protection has been lacking in the second half of the season and Miami's pressure has been about the same. Whichever team can change this trend will have a major advantage. Miami's zone blitzes could cause timing issues for Bridgewater, but if he's not forced to drop his eyes it won't matter. Teddy excels at progressing through his reads and using his legs to extend plays. He has a great understanding with his receivers and they all know just what to do when a play extends past that five second mark. Miami has been victimized all year by quarterbacks that have had all day to throw the ball and outside of Jameis Winston, they haven't seen anyone on the level of Bridgewater. Louisville will nickel and dime it's way down the field and wear out this thin defense if the defense fails to get to Teddy.
MIAMI KEY PLAYERS: LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo, CB Tracy Howard, S Deon Bush
LOUISVILLE KEY PLAYERS: QB Teddy Bridgewater, C Jake Smith, WR Damian Copeland, TE Gerald Christian, RB Dominique Brown