University of Miami coach Larry Coker can obviously relate after watching the top-ranked Hurricanes escape with a 28-27 victory over Seminoles last Saturday at the Orange Bowl thanks to a failed 43-yard field goal attempt by Florida State sophomore kicker Xavier Beitia with time expiring.
The Hurricanes (6-0) are the ones accustomed to pushing around the opposition on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But for the first time in a long time, it was Miami going backwards and being dominated in the trenches- especially on defense.
Despite extending the nation's longest winning streak to 28 and maintaining the No. 1 ranking in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls with their most recent victory, which includes a record-setting 19th straight week No. 1 ranking in the AP poll, Coker has plenty of valid concerns regarding the Hurricanes. And right at the top of the list is the UM defense.
"Florida State was ripping off big gains throughout the entire ballgame and I'm not talking about just two or three yards. I mean Greg Jones was getting in our secondary most of the time," said Coker about the Florida State junior running back that rushed for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown against the Hurricanes defense. "We have a lot of things we need to work out on defense.
Miami run defense entered the Florida State game having allowed just 635 yards rushing all season for an average of 127 a game. But the Seminoles chewed up 296 on the ground by executing their blocking schemes inside and opening running lanes for Jones and back-up running back Nick Maddux (12 carries, 74 yards).
Florida State had success from the very start of the game as they ran right at one of Miami's supposed strengths- their defensive line. The Seminoles ripped off six rushes of 15 yards or more in the first half alone to help take a 17-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.
On the first play of the game, Jones went for 28 yards down the left sideline. Later in the second quarter, Maddux went for 30 yards and a touchdown to tie the game on virtually the same play. The Noles continued to nibble at the Canes defensive line with their running game in the second half, which included an 11-yard touchdown run by Jones that gave FSU a 27-14 lead with 11:44 remaining in the game.
"Their offensive line really did a great job against us," Coker said. "We got very little penetration the entire day."
Even before the opening whistle, Coker knew that the Seminoles wanted to run the ball.
The Seminoles went into the game thinking their best chance at pulling off the upset was to put the ball in Jones' hands and not force the issue with quarterback Chris Rix. Florida State wanted to pound the ball through the tackles with Jones and refrain from having to ask Rix for a big play.
And Jones, who has rushed for over 100 yards in five of seven games this season, responded with only the second 100-yard rushing performance against the Hurricanes since 1999, joining West Virginia's Avon Cobourne (132, 2001) and Virginia Tech's Lee Suggs (121, 2000).
"They really played well," said UM defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "We got pushed around some, so I can't say it was our best day out there."
But as far as the Hurricanes defense is concerned they may not be out of the woods anytime soon. After an off week, Miami opens a three-game road swing Oct. 26 against the West Virginia Mountaineers and Cobourne.
Cobourne currently leads the Big East conference and is fourth in the country with 894 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He is averaging 149 yards a contest, while West Virginia has the second-best rushing offense in the nation.
"I'm really concerned right now," said Coker. "We're going to have to a do a better job of tackling. We missed a bunch of tackles and at times weren't in position to make tackles. We need to get that corrected."
But Coker, who is now 18-0 as coach of the Hurricanes, hasn't lost confidence in his vaunted defensive-line, which includes Wilfork, Andrew Williams, Jamaal Green and William Joseph.
"We're good enough to get the job done," Coker said. "I know we are because we've proved it in the past."
Stopping Run Coker's #1Concern
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