Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes beat writer for the Miami Herald since 2000, the year before the Hurricanes won their fifth national title. Miller Degnan took time out to answer questions about Miami going into Friday night’s game against Virginia.
1. Where is Miami emotionally after Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech? The 28-0 hole, the big comeback, the disappointing loss. How will the Hurricanes bounce back on a short week?
Miller Degnan: Miami coach Manny Diaz said his players after the game were “hurting badly.’’ He said “there was not one negative word being said from one person to another person,’’ which is the way “it has been all year.’’
Diaz pointed to the respect the players have for one another and how proud he was of the way they fought to nearly mount a “comeback that gets talked about forever.’’ But let’s face it, the proof is in the execution and, ultimately, the result. These Hurricanes for some reason do not fight like that for the entire game, and they’re not good enough to choose which quarters to turn it on. When I see the Hurricanes come out enthused and engaged and stay that way for four quarters, I’ll believe that they are capable of bouncing back.
2. Virginia Tech had some success running QB Hendon Hooker against Miami. Virginia’s best offensive weapon is the running of QB Bryce Perkins. How well will the Hurricanes be able to bottle up Perkins, especially considering the emergence of receivers like Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois for UVa?
Miller Degnan: I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about this situation, despite the Canes being ranked seventh in rushing defense. Hendon Hooker was the first quarterback this season to run freely on UM, though the other Power 5 quarterbacks Miami has faced were not the running types.
Diaz proclaimed Monday, “I’m going to change my role in coaching the defense.’’ He said the play of the defense has been “completely unacceptable.’’
He did not elaborate on specifics, but made it clear that players will start to be held accountable for their play and that he will be closely connected to the defense “going forward.’’
3. Joe Reed is one of the ACC’s most explosive kick returners. How has Miami’s coverage been and are they likely to give Reed a chance to return anything Friday?
Miller Degnan: Going into the week, Reed was ranked second in the nation in kickoff return touchdowns (one), and fourth in kickoff returns, averaging 34.1 yards per return. The Canes rank 64th nationally in kickoff return defense (20.4-yard average per return) and 38th in punt return defense (4.7 yards per return). But I’ll let Manny Diaz answer that question.
“No. 1, Bubba Baxa does a great job of getting touchbacks (19 of 31 kickoffs),’’ Diaz said. “I’ve been very pleased with our punt coverage and kickoff coverage. The down side is the last two kickoffs that have gotten outside the 25-yard line have been when we kick off from our 20 due to a penalty...Our effort and intensity on all our special teams — our coverage unit and our return units — have made major improvements. That being said, our coverage unit has a massive undertaking this week because Reed has crossed the 50-yard line in almost every [game] they’ve played.”