Defense Marches On

After being stripped of seven starters from last season's unit, including four NFL first-round selections, this was supposed to be the year the Hurricanes defense finally took a step backwards. It's not like Miami hasn't been down this road before, but it's quite different when you're trying to replace the likes of Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, D. J. Williams and Vince Wilfork.

But stopping the opposition hasn't been much of a problem for the No. 3 Hurricanes (4-0).

Despite a new trio of starting linebackers, which opened the season with 12 combined starts, and a revamped secondary, including three new starters, the Hurricanes have been quite stingy in remaining one of the top defensive units in the country - if not the best.

Miami will enter tonight's contest against No.17 Louisville (4-0) ranked first in scoring defense (6.5 points a game) and second in total defense (215.75 yards) after surrendering just one touchdown in 60 possessions this season. The lone blemish? A six-yard touchdown run by Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb during a UM 38-13 victory Sept. 23.

The Hurricanes secondary has not been scored on.

"It's really a combination of things from the job (defensive coordinator) Randy (Shannon) has done in putting these guys in position to make plays to the kind of athletes we have on that side of the ball," said UM coach Larry Coker. "I just can't say enough of what all these guys have done. It's really amazing if you think about it."

The word around the country before the start of the season was just how UM could compensate for losing players like Vilma, Williams, Wilfork and Taylor. Vilma, who was the Hurricanes leading tackler from 2001-03, was considered a field general, while Wilfork was a mainstay on the defensive front and Taylor manned the secondary. But the Hurricanes have moved on without missing a beat.

"I just think we play well together," said UM senior defensive back Antrel Rolle. "And I don't we've had our best game. By the end of the season there's no doubt in my mind that this is going to be the best defense in the country."

The Hurricanes can make that claim right now. Off the other four teams that make-up the top-five in both major polls, Miami has allowed the fewest points (26) and average passing yards (115) per game. Miami's average rushing yards allowed per game (100.8) is a notch below that of Purdue (76.0), Auburn (100.5) and USC (100.6).

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is certainly aware of the damage the Hurricanes defense has done this season.

"That's why they're Miami. They're defense is very fast and guys are always near the ball," Petrino said. "They understand what they're doing and make it very difficult for anybody to get the exact look you need."

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