Faced with the task of defending explosive quarterbacks and stopping three and four wide receiver sets in their first two games of the season, the University of Miami's defense opened both games in a nickel and dime package in hopes of silencing the formidable aerial attacks.
Before taking on Temple last Saturday, the Hurricanes defensive game plans against the pass-happy offensive schemes of Florida A&M and Florida called for the inclusion of five and six defensive backs on most plays, with the idea being to offset the damage done by opposing quarterbacks Casey Printers and Rex Grossman.
In turn, the Canes starting linebackers trio of Vilma, Howard Clark and D.J Williams was not on the field together for most of the plays called. Vilma can only recall having Clark- the strong-side starter- and Williams –the weak-side starter- on the field with him no more than 15 times so far this season.
Clark is fourth on the team with 10 tackles, while Williams is tied for third on the team with 13 tackles.
"I think maybe 10 times against Florida A&M and five times against the Gators," said Vilma.
That will change drastically Saturday for the Hurricanes (3-0) against Boston College (2-0) at 7:45 p.m. in the Orange Bowl. In lieu of firing away at the UM secondary with regularity, the Eagles offense calls for a mix of the run and pass, which will force the Hurricanes to use the more conventional 4-3 defense on occasion.
At least that's what Vilma and the rest of the Hurricanes defense expects heading into the contest.
"It's going to be a very physical game, a hard-hitting game," said Vilma, who has a team-high 18 tackles for UM. "We just gave to grind it up and get ready for it. There is a big difference facing Boston College because we not only have to ready for the play action pass or the possibility of the tight end utilizing the middle the field, we also have to ready for their running plays. It's a big challenge for everybody."
Senior quarterback Brian St. Pierre is the anchor of the Eagles offense that will be in search of just their third touchdown against the Hurricanes since 2000. Miami, which has 12 straight victories in the series, has outscored BC 101-41 in the last three meetings.
But St. Pierre, considered an NFL prospects by scouts, has the potential to give the Hurricanes defense quite a workout. The 6-4, 217-pounder has thrown for at least one touchdown in 14 consecutive games dating back to the 2001 season opener against West Virginia. St Pierre (41-of-69, 499 yards, five touchdown passes) had three TD passes in BC's 2002 opener against Connecticut and followed that up with one scoring pass in a 34-27 victory over Stanford two weeks ago.
"They are a tough, physical football team," said UM head coach Larry Coker. "St. Pierre can throw just about any type of ball and those running backs they have come out with the idea of pounding you."
The Hurricanes are expecting a whole lot of junior tailback Derrick Knight, who leads the Eagles with 216 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Knight, who has surpassed 100 yards in both of BC's games this year, will be making his first start of the season against Miami.
In last season's Miami 18-7 win at Alumni Stadium, Knight, filling in for the suspended William Green, rushed for 78 yards on 12 carries and caught four passes for 54 yards.
"No question, it's going to a war in the trenches," said UM defensive end Andrew Williams. "They're going to bring our lunch pales and go to work."
Coker said that junior wide receiver Andre Johnson, who missed the Temple game after having arthroscopic surgery to remove loose particles in his left shoulder last week, practiced with the team on Sunday and again this afternoon. Johnson is expected to play against Boston College.
"We'll obviously guard his progress this week," said Coker. "But I expect him to play Saturday."
Coker brought a chuckle out of the crowd at his weekly press conference by adding that Johnson ‘has to play' because he's the action hero depicted on the game tickets for Saturday's game.
"He has no choice," said Coker.
Whole Gang Better Be Ready
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