ACC Preview: Miami D key to ‘Canes getting back on track

Miami didn't see much of this last year. (Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)

Twelve years have passed since the Miami Hurricanes put one of the best squads in college football history out on the field for 12 dominant games in 2001. The 2001 ‘Canes had a boatload of NFL-caliber talent on both sides of the ball, combining an explosive O with a dominant D to win every game by an average score of 43-9.

No one who watched that nasty-as-they-wanna-be bunch could have imagined that the “The U” would ever field a defense as bad as what Miami had a year ago. The ‘Canes D stunk in nearly every conceivable way:

Miami, Defensive S&P+ (2012)

Category Nat'l. Rank
Overall 79
Play Efficiecny 81
Std. Downs 85
Passing Downs 63
Rushing 82
Passing 66
Drive Eff. 73
DNP 82

*Source: Football Outsiders

For a coach who made his name teaching defense, Al Golden had to have been more steamed than the old Orange Bowl on a September Saturday.

Golden has more than enough offensive firepower to get his team back into position to contend for the ACC title. Hyped senior quarterback Stephen Morris returns to pilot the attack, and he’ll be protected by five returning starters on the offensive line. One of the best running backs in the country, sophomore Duke Johnson, will tote the rock. Morris also has this top three receiving targets from a year ago back as well.

But why buy into Miami making a defensive resurgence in 2013?

Primarily, as Chip Patterson of mentioned on our ACC preview podcast, the ‘Canes actually do have a wealth of experience returning. Per Phil Steele, nearly 80 percent of their tackles from a year ago are back, the 23rd-most in the country.

The Hurricanes are bringing back eight starters on defense, four of whom are on track to be in the starting lineup for the third consecutive season. The linebacking corps did take a hit in the spring with the departures of Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson, two of the top four tacklers from last season. However, both the defensive line, led by junior end Anthony Chickillo, and secondary have veterans across the board.

Bear in mind that with so much upheaval in Miami’s program in the previous two seasons after the Nevin Shapiro scandal came to light, many of these players were forced into contributing roles before they were ready. With Golden now in his third year as Miami’s head coach, the trials of the last two years seem likely to begin paying dividends.

Is Miami suddenly going to develop an impenetrable D, the likes of which haven't been seen on South Beach since the glory days? Considering the strength of the Hurricanes' offense, they might not need it – at least, not if the goal is winning the ACC. Marginal improvement alone could make Miami pretty formidable.