Grading the Canes: Defense

Miami's defense is what kept the Hurricanes in the game into the fourth quarter against the Gators on Saturday night. Lets take a closer look at who stood out for the Canes and how the entire defense performed as a unit.

Defensive Line: B
Many people had predicted Marcus Forston to become a starter around the middle part of this season. They were wrong. He became one of the starters at defensive tackle, alongside Antonio Dixon, in just his second game as a Hurricane. While he's still learning, he played very well against the Gators on Saturday -- getting good pressure on Tim Tebow, dishing out a few good shots, often battling double teams, and just being a presence that Miami really needs inside this season. Antonio Dixon also played well and the two of them look like they could form a very good duo this season. Dixon did a nice job applying pressure, starting all the way back on the first series of the game for the Gators when he nailed Tebow just as he threw the touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez. Dixon, however, was overaggressive at times as well and cost the Canes an important 15 yards on one of Florida's fourth quarter drives. The backups inside, Joe Joseph and Dwayne Hendricks, both played a lot but didn't seem nearly as effective as the starters. True freshman Micanor Regis also got onto the field on Florida's final offensive series.

It seemed like a lot of people questioned Randy Shannon last week when he said that Allen Bailey and Eric Moncur would only go 20 to 25 plays against the Gators. Many fans felt like they'd play most of the game because of their possible impact. Well, Shannon was exactly right. The two of them did not start the game and didn't get the majority of the snaps. Adewale Ojomo and Steven Wesley filled those roles and they did so quite nicely. They all helped keep Tebow out of rhythm for most of the first three quarters. While Bailey had one tackle behind the line of scrimmage, it was easy to see that he was a little rusty after not practicing much for most of the last month or so. Moncur might have been the most effective of the four as far as applying pressure on Tebow.

As effective as the defensive line appeared to be for most of the night, they still had more penalties against them (two) than plays behind the line of scrimmage (1.5). When the linebackers weren't coming on blitzes, the defensive line wasn't applying constant pressure. However, they did a nice job of creating a new line of scrimmage. The tackles did well enough for the linebackers to make a lot of plays. It's always a good sign for a defense when the top four tacklers are all linebackers. That means the D-Line is allowing the first line of defense behind them to make plays. There was a good rotation of fresh bodies and it has to be very encouraging that the unit played that well against such a good offense with two guys not 100-percent and one playing in just his second game at the college level. This unit looks like it could develop into one of the strengths of the team this season.

Linebackers: B+
The Canes went with four guys for most of the night -- Glenn Cook in the middle with Colin McCarthy, Darryl Sharpton, and Sean Spence on the outside. Romeo Davis came into the game for just a couple plays, while Spencer Adkins was on the field for just a few plays as well. The three starters combined for 21 tackles and Spence had five more off the bench. The four of them combined to make four plays behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack, and McCarthy caused the only fumble of the entire game. These guys came to play.

Cook continues to be around the ball a lot and does a good job of making tackles. He was a bit overaggressive on the play where Tebow found Hernandez for a 35-yard gain but he played very well for the most part. It seemed like McCarthy could have done a better job of forcing Percy Harvin inside on the Gators touchdown that put them up 16-3 but for the most part he seemed to play pretty well. Spence looks like a future star out there. Adkins applied pressure on Tebow the first time he was out there and it was a bit surprising not seeing him on the field more in a similar role as the one he played the game before against Charleston Southern when he registered a couple sacks.

The bottom lins here is that the tackling was pretty good, the linebackers did a nice job of making plays upfield, they did a nice job of getting after Tebow for most of the night, and the main four players were the four leading tacklers for the Canes on Saturday night. If they keep playing the way they did on Saturday, with a little improvement, all season, this position will be another strength for the Hurricanes.

Defensive Backs: C
The starters were Chavez Grant and Bruce Johnson at corner and JoJo Nicolas and Anthony Reddick at safety. Brandon Harris was the nickel back and was on the field early and often against the Gators on Saturday night. Demarcus Van Dyke also played corner for the Canes while the backup safeties were Randy Phillips and Ryan Hill, both of whom played a lot.

Grant had a few catches against him that went for about 40 yards or so. Bruce Johnson did a good job against Louis Murphy and the Florida receivers for most of the night but then but had a tough play in the fourth quarter, when Murphy caught a couple on him, including the long touchdown that was called back. Johnson had excellent coverage on the play but Murphy just took the ball away from mid air. Murphy also dropped a first down catch in front of Johnson on that same drive. Van Dyke allowed the touchdown pass to Murphy when he let the Florida receiver get outside. Harris seemed to provide excellent coverage, as his only lapse in coverage appeared to be when he was caught looking into the backfield on a play where Tebow missed an open receiver near the sidelines.

Reddick got into the action right off the bat, when he broke up a pass from Tebow on the first series of the game. UM's best open-field tackler, Reddick seemed to play a very good game on Saturday night and has to be considered Miami's best defensive back right now. He finished with four stops -- the most of any of the DB's. The only ball caught in front of him was on Harvin's only catch of the night, which went for 12 yards. Nicolas didn't get off to a great start when Florida scored the game's first touchdown. Phillips had a tough night, especially on Florida's first touchdown drive of the second half. He had coverage on Carl Moore when the big play happened near the sidelines. He also had a pass interference call on that same drive that kept the drive alive and gave Florida a chance to come back and score the touchdown.

The coners seemed to be a solid, yet unspectacular job, at covering Florida's receivers on Saturday night. They gave up just three big plays -- Deonte Thompson's 22-yard catch on Chavez Grant, Murphy's touchdown on Van Dyke, and the TD by Murphy on Johnson that was called back. Considering Florida's receivers are as good as they'll see all season, the corners look like they could have a strong year for the Canes. You'd like to see more plays being made on the ball, but Tebow is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Reddick gives the Canes a rock solid safety and hopefully Nicolas continues developing into one while guys like Phillips and Hill can give the Canes quality play. It's interesting to note here that senior Lovon Ponder, who has played a lot the last couple seasons, has not seen the field yet this season.


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