FILM STUDY: Miami Hurricanes secondary has things to shore up in bye weekend that could wind up making the difference in ACC title chase
By Matt Shodell,2023-09-27
If the Miami Hurricanes defense is going to thrive this year, there’s one area in particular that will likely need more consistent: The secondary.
While the attacking Lance Guidr y defense has been extremely stout against the run ( only 48.0 yards per game given up on the ground, ranking No. 2 in the nation less than two yards behind Nebraska ), the corners are often left in one-on-one coverage, and there are times you’ll find a linebacker or defensive end trying to cover a slot receiver. Guidry gambles with blitzes from different positions and dropping guys that offenses might not expect into coverage. Some offenses can handle that, some can’t.
And, in a copycat league (if you can call college football a league), you know upcoming opponents are going to try to replicate some of what we saw in the first half of the Temple game (the Owls threw for 196 yards that half in wet, windy conditions) and the second half of the Texas A&M game (gave up 260 passing yards those final two quarters).
Keep this in mind, too: Five of the final eight Miami opponents currently rank in the nation’s top 40 in passing yards per game.
As for the UM side of things? Opponents are completing 57.4 percent of their passes for 225.0 yards per game through the first four contests … and three of the teams Miami faced weren’t exactly dynamic passing attacks (FCS Bethune-Cookman is No. 96 in the nation in passing yards, Miami-Ohio is 90th and Temple is 49th). The fourth opponent, Texas A&M, had 336 passing yards against the Canes and average 301.3 pass yards on the season.
Can you blame some of it on missing All-American safety Kam Kinchens the last couple of games, with starting DL Akheem Mesidor, Branson Deen and Nyjalik Kelly also out that same span? Perhaps, to some extent.
But is there some reason for concern with the pass defense? That’s fair to say as well.
It’s why perhaps this early bye weekend is coming at the perfect time. It’s all about self-scouting and shoring up holes that other teams can find in this defense.
So now let’s go to the film to give a better idea of what Guidry will be working to fix over these next 12 days before Georgia Tech comes to town. A mentioned earlier, we’ll specifically focus on the first half of the Temple game and second half of the Texas A&M game just to show some of what popped off the tape:
FIRST HALF VS. TEMPLE
2-10 TEM18 No Huddle-Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short middle to #80 Z.Baines for 13 yards to the TEM31 (#22 J.Davis).
Temple goes with a tight end in the slot, 3 wide, 1 back look, spreading out the Miami defense on second and 10. The Canes aren’t lined up showing anything tricky here, with four down linemen, two linebackers and two high safeties. Jaden Davis backs off his man in the slot prior to the snap, giving him eight yards of space. At the snap Te’Cory Couch blitzes on the other side. Couch is picked up, the pass rush doesn’t get there and because of the soft coverage by Davis his man (Zae Baines) is wide open on the slant over the middle.
1-10 TEM25 No Huddle-Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short left to #15 A.Anderson Jr. for 46 yards to the MIA29 (#20 J.Williams),
This was the biggest play of the day for Temple. First let’s look at what the Owls did on the play – Temple has a tight end attached, one-back look with three receivers bunched to the left. Miami has seven in the box but rushes four, and Temple picks it up with the five linemen, sending out the tight end and running back for routes on the right side. Those are picked up well by Corey Flagg and James Williams (who is essentially lined up as a LB on the play to the far top middle of the screen). But on the left side of the offense you have Jaden Davis, Daryl Porter, Jr. and Te’Cory Couch essentially trying to cover the three bunched receivers one-on-one … because Miami has put seven in the box and the one high safety Jaden Harris is 12 yards downfield lined up opposite the center. At the snap the receiver on the line in the bunched formation cuts to the inside, drawing Davis with him and he’s double-teamed by LB KJ Cloyd. Porter has latched onto TE David Martin-Robinson and has him blanketed. That leaves the outside receiver working on Couch, who began the play lined up seven yards off the line to help discern if he needs to attack a quick hitter with two receivers blocking in front or if he’ll be in coverage down the field. It’s on Couch to pick up Amad Anderson Jr., who is running a quick out to the sideline five yards off the line of scrimmage. As Couch sees Anderson start his route, he backs up another three yards, and when the ball comes out (this is EJ Warner’s first read, and he’s looking at Anderson the whole way) Couch is too far away to make a play on the ball. But he makes a mistake and decides to try and take an angle for a possible PBU/interception instead of realizing he’s too far back. It should have been a tackle for a nine-yard gain. Instead Couch sets Anderson loose, and the receiver starts sprinting up the left sideline with the safety Harris in pursuit. Anderson cuts inside, leaving Anderson nowhere near him, and then it’s on James Williams – who does a nice job pursuing – to make the tackle. He actually mostly whiffs on the tackle attempt, but Anderson fakes himself out a bit and is already off balance and perhaps Williams gets a hand on a shoelace … Anderson falls down a couple of yards later after a gain of 46 yards. This is one issue with how Guidry will leave his corners on an island. Couch has made a mistake, and when that happened there’s no one in position to help make sure it’s not a huge gain.
3-8 MIA27 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short left to #17 J.Adams for 8 yards to the MIA19 (#19 J.Harris; #0 T.Couch)
This is a textbook Guidry look for a third-and-long play. He wants to confuse EJ Warner and the offense, walking up three extra defenders at or within a couple of yards of the line before the snap (Miami has two high safeties and CB Jaden Davis is also playing back just behind the line to gain). So Warner is staring down seven across the line as Temple has a one-back set with a receiver at the top and three bunched receivers on the other side. It’s not all that different a look than the play that hit for the 46-yard gain we just broke down. Just before the snap Corey Flagg drops off the line and picks up TE David Martin-Robinson cutting left to right. At the snap Te’Cory Couch takes WR Amad Anderson, Jr., who has come in motion as one of the three bunched receivers. He has him blanketed. Miami winds up rushing four. The receiver at the top of the screen is running a deep cross and comes open in front of James Williams, but Warner isn’t looking that way. Indeed, this play is very similar to the one that hit for the big gain, but with a little twist. Instead of a short out, the receiver on the outside (John Adams) turns back inside, and with Davis starting the play so far back the WR gets some leverage because Davis thinks he has diagnosed the out route Temple showed earlier and sprints hard to that spot. But Adams plants and then cuts inside. Temple has used Davis’ aggressiveness against him to get Adams wide open. Davis recovers and shows his athleticisms, launching his body at Adams with a chance to still stop the play and force a fourth down. But he just isn’t in position and as he dives and grasps for Adams’ legs he comes up empty. Harris and Couch do a nice job going full speed to Adams, but by the time they make the stop the third down is converted.
3-5 TEM30 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short left to #28 D.Hubbard for 37 yards to the MIA33 (#20 J.Williams)
Don’t be surprised if other teams use their running backs and tight ends quite a bit as targets … if Guidry continues to dial up plays where defensive ends drop into one-on-one coverage on those guys. In this case you see Guidry showing blitz at the line with five, and Miami has tight coverage at the top of the screen and off coverage at the bottome with two high safeties. Temple has spread the field with four wide. At the snap Guidry opts to blitz LB Wesley Bissainthe from the left side of the line and drop DE Jayden Wayne into coverage on the smaller but much quicker RB Darvon Hubbard (who had five catches in Temple’s first three games, so it’s not a huge surprise when he’s targeted). Hubbard runs right at Wayne, catches him flat-footed with a stutter step and then speeds past him to the inside. The tight end at the top has run a deep out, drawing KJ Cloyd away from the play, and at the snap the safety on that side, James Williams, runs the other direction to help over the top with David Martin-Robinson flying downfield. By the time Williams gets back to make the stop it’s a pickup of 37 yards.
1-10 MIA33 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass incomplete deep right to #28 D.Hubbard.
This is the very next play after the 37-yard gain, and on this play Temple again spreads the field with an initial four wide look and sends tight end David Martin-Robinson in motion right to left (he stops attached to the line at the snap and helps in protection). The Canes have four down linemen and are playing press at the bottom with Daryl Porter, Jr. on Amad Anderson, Jr. The other corners are playing off, and Miami has a one-high safety. At the snap Anderson runs downfield and right past a flat-footed Porter for what should have been an easy TD … but even with time to throw and no defender near him Warner overthrows the ball badly and it falls incomplete. It’s unclear on tape if perhaps Te’Cory Couch was supposed to pick up Anderson one-on-one at the snap, as Anderson initially runs right past Couch who is caught looking at the RB running a route his way. But certainly a huge bust here and one that can’t happen against Miami’s bigger opponents to come.
FINAL DRIVE OF HALF (STARTING WITH 1:03 REMAINING)
2-10 TEM25 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short left to #15 A.Anderson Jr. for 15 yards to the TEM40 (#0 T.Couch)
This is sort of reminiscent of how Texas A&M was also able to move the ball down the field quickly and easily when Guidry takes his foot off the gas and isn’t quite as aggressive with not much time left and the lead. On this play he rushes four against max protect, and there are only two wide receivers … both lined up next to each other at the top of the screen. There’s a one high safety to the receivers’ side, and Jaden Davis and Te’Cory Couch are in one-on-one coverage at the top. Safety Jaden Harris goes with the deep receiver Zae Baines on the play, doubling him with Davis, but underneath Couch is out of position on Anderson. He lines up too far to the inside and has to wait for Baines to run by him before he can try to defend the pass to Anderson. An easy pitch and catch, as they say, and one that has to be cleaned up. Also note the flag was picked up on the play.
1-10 TEM40 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short right to #2 E.Saydee for 14 yards to the MIA46
As we’ve mentioned, the running backs / tight end passing game is one that could come back to bite Miami if things aren’t cleaned up. This particular play is a basic RB screen to Edward Saydee. Miami is lined up rushing four with two high safeties, and Temple has a four wide look with Sayee next to Warner in shotgun. At the snap the receivers to the right side clear out their men with an in and deep route, leaving that side of the field wide open for Saydee with Jahfari Harvey pushing in on the pass rush from left end. Saydee is probably KJ Cloyd’s responsibility, but Cloyd got hung up looking at the tight end running across him over the middle and is too late to respond. Cloyd also isn’t fast enough to catch Saydee from behind, and the back sprints for the first down and runs out of bounds with CB Daryl Porter, Jr. closing in.
2-1 MIA37 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short middle to #15 A.Anderson Jr. for 18 yards to the MIA19 (#2 D.Porter Jr.) … and roughing the passer on J.Harrison-Hunte
Miami rushes four and has a two high safety look with 42 seconds to go in the half. Temple is again spreading the field with four wide. This time UM drops Jahfari Harvey into coverage and only rushes three, which makes the gap in the secondary all the more inexplicable as Anderson is wide open down the middle. On this play Temple uses Miami’s aggressiveness against it. Anderson runs a simple stop and go, and his pause three yards upfield draws three defenders (Francisco Mauigoa, Corey Flagg and Harvey) up to him … and then he speeds right by them for the easy 18-yard pickup. Compounding this was roughing the passer vs. DT Jared Harrison-Hunte. This is just bad defense and a lack of understanding by the linebackers on the play and the situation … there isn’t even a pump fake by Warner needed to get them to all bite up.
3-G MIA09 Shotgun #3 E.Warner pass complete short middle to #95 R.Clark for 9 yards. Touchdown.
Temple is again spreading the field with four wide, and in this case the four-man rush gets there with LB Wesley Bissainthe coming in and DE Jahfari Harvey dropping in coverage. Rueben Bain does a great job after shifting pre-snap, beating the offensive guard with a swim move to the inside and getting in Warner’s face as he throws. Down the middle in coverage is Francisco Mauigoa picking up the tight end and Te’Cory Couch on the slot receiver. But in this case aggressiveness again gets Miami, as Couch has his eyes in the backfield and not on the receiver, and as Bain gets in the QB’s face Couch starts to push forward anticipating perhaps a batted ball for an interception. Instead Couch has given the receiver space to make the catch behind him.
SECOND HALF VS. TEXAS A&M
3-7 AGGIES20 (07:33) No Huddle-Shotgun #15 C.Weigman pass complete short right to #7 M.Muhammad III for 15 yards to the AGGIES35 (#0 T.Couch), out of bounds.
ANALYSIS: Nyjalik Kelly and Jahfari Harvey are the ends on this snap, with Rueben Bain and end Chantz Williams working inside on an obvious third-and-long passing play. James Williams comes down on the line of scrimmage and there are seven in the box with Miami playing off coverage and Texas A&M in a four receiver, one-back look. At the snap Te’Cory Couch backs into man coverage with his eyes on the slot receiver (Moose Muhammad) to the offense’s right, and Francisco Mauigoa drops off the line into zone coverage to the left. Flagg is in zone in the middle of the field. So Miami winds up rushing four and Conner Weigman has time, sets his feet and delivers to Muhammad for the first down conversion. You can see that Couch is simply beaten one-on-one with no over the top help as A&M has sent its other receivers on longer routes that have taken the safeties attention. Other teams can attack the nickel if he’s lined up at the line and drops back into coverage at the snap, since you know most likely it’s going to be one-on-one in those situations with the advantage for the offense.
1-10 AGGIES25 (05:38) No Huddle-Shotgun #15 C.Weigman pass complete short middle to #3 N.Thomas for 16 yards to the AGGIES41 (#5 K.Kinchens).
ANALYSIS : Miami has Leonard Taylor and Jared Harrison-Hunte on the interior and Jahfari Harvey and Rueben Bain at end, and this is a 4-3 look with a safety in the box to help out as Texas A&M is showing run with a two tight end set with two receivers split wide. At the snap all the linebackers charge forward off a play-action fake, and Keontra Smith winds up blitzing, running all the way in and right past Weigman. So now Miami has eight players all around the line of scrimmage after the snap with two receivers running routes on opposite sides of the field one-on-one with one safety, Kam Kinchens, to help out. James Williams tries to get back and help in coverage, but he already was fooled and too aggressive on the play-action and is far off the receivers running behind him. So Weigman gets just enough time to get it off to Noah Thomas on the right side for the 16-yard pickup. What other teams can glean from this? Well, it’s sort of what Shannon Dawson has done on the other side of the ball – show a run-heavy formation, play-action and throw behind it. That helps hold the defense for that split second. Guidry has an attacking scheme that is aggressive, and that leaves some holes at times if guys aren’t eye-disciplined enough.
1-10 CANES46 (04:04) No Huddle-Shotgun #15 C.Weigman pass complete short middle to #42 M.Wright for 18 yards to the CANES28 (#20 J.Williams).
ANALYSIS : Texas A&M goes two wide with a tight end attached to the line, another TE at H-back and a one-back formation. Miami counters with a 4-3 and there is confusion at the snap with James Williams and Kam Kinchens gesturing back and forth. Kinchens is the lone high safety, and at the snap Texas A&M gets what Miami showed – four rushers and the defense in a matchup zone. But the tight end attached to the line, Max Wright, is essentially ignored by the defense while the H-back lined up behind him, Jake Johnson, winds up getting attention from Francisco Mauigoa and Keontra Smith. So Wright just meanders down the middle of the field with no one picking him up for the easy yards. Miami’s D was fooled by the TE attached usually being a blocker … and in this case going out for a pass. That can’t happen, and other teams will no doubt be testing this if they have pass catchers with physicality at that position.
3-1 CANES19 (02:32) No Huddle #15 C.Weigman pass complete short right to #24 E.Crownover for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN (making it 31-26 Miami).
ANALYSIS : This is another example of how this Miami defense can have issues when a team passes out of a jumbo look with a play-action element added. Texas A&M lined up with two tight ends attached to the line, a fullback and tailback with just one wide receiver to the far side of the field. In this case it’s Earnest Crownover at fullback. He fakes as a lead blocker for Rueben Owens to the right at the snap, and Weigman fakes the handoff to Owens. The play-action freezes the linebackers and safeties, but Davonte Brown does a nice job latching onto one of the tight ends running a route. Francisco Mauigoa isn’t so lucky trying to pick up Crownover. The Miami linebacker is caught flat-footed as Crownover starts to run by him, then Mauigoa falls as he tries to turn and catch up. As a side note: James Williams did a nice job breaking through quickly and almost blew the play up, but Owens picked him up well. The play ends with a TD that cut Miami’s lead to five points.
FOURTH QUARTER 1-15 AGGIES20 (06:27) No Huddle-Shotgun #15 C.Weigman pass complete deep right to #1 E.Stewart for 44 yards to the CANES36 .
ANALYSIS : In the final seven minutes trailing we see what Texas A&M can do in the passing game … when Miami’s defense knows passes are coming with UM leading late in the game. You’d hope for some dialed up pressure here and there, with sound defense forcing third downs. In other words, make them earn it and burn clock while not allowing the big plays. Well, that didn’t happen at all. Miami has four down linemen, two linebackers and two high safeties with the corners all playing off coverage. The Aggies are going three wide with a tight end attached and one-back look. At the snap the tight end and running back join the receivers running routes, and Miami’s four-man rush doesn’t beat the five blockers. Weigman lofts a deep throw to Evan Stewart, who has gotten a step on the smaller Jaden Davis deep down the field one-on-one. The gain goes for 44 yards, with Kinchens late coming over to help as Texas A&M had too many targets running downfield and too much time to throw. This is just poor execution by players and other teams will be looking to attack these one-on-one matchups down the field.
1-10 CANES36 (05:55) No Huddle-Shotgun #15 C.Weigman pass complete short right to #1 E.Stewart for 12 yards to the CANES24 (#22 J.Davis).
ANALYSIS : On the very next snap after the 44-yard gain, Miami’s defense again gives up a Stewart catch. A&M remains in the same formation as the prior play, and this time Miami has five at the line but drops DE Jahfari Harvey and LB Wesley Bissainthe into coverage at the snap, leaving three pass rushers. Stewart finds plenty of room past the sticks for an easy first down. So an issue here was lack of pressure rushing three and then being soft in coverage. A bad combination.
4-G CANES09 (05:07) No Huddle-Shotgun #15 C.Weigman pass complete short middle to #3 N.Thomas for 9 yards TOUCHDOWN (cut Miami lead to 41-33).
ANALYSIS : On third and goal the Canes had come with an all-out blitz, forcing a pass under pressure with Weigman off balance that was overthrown. So what gets dialed up on fourth down? Miami brings five to the line and rushes four, with Jahfari Harvey spying the running back. Wesley Bissainthe comes free on the right side rushing the QB when the running back goes out for a pass instead of blocking him, and Bissainthe hits Weigman just after he throws (drawing a flag) … the QB has already found Thomas wide open in the middle of the end zone with James Williams, Kam Kinchens and Te’Cory Couch confused and not really covering anyone. As you watch the play design, you see Ainias Smith come underneath Thomas in the middle … and Couch appears to be the guy in coverage but he runs himself out of the play with his back turned to the QB. When the catch is made there is no one within three yards of Thomas on a busted coverage. The communication and coverage can’t break down like that on these kinds of plays.
Also of note: There were a few more chunk plays given up on Texas A&M’s final possession – a 20-yard completion to Ainias Smith on which Miami showed blitz with six at the line but dropped two and was playing soft coverage. There was a third-and-10 13-yard pass to Stewart on which Miami rushed four and brought Couch on a corner blitz. Couch never got close on the quick throw on the right with Davis playing soft coverage. And then with 1:25 to play the Aggies converted a third-and-eight to Stewart for 28 yards – on that play Miami rushed four and brought Daryl Porter, Jr. on a blitz. Porter actually came totally free to the QB, but the ball was already out with Stewart wide open and James Williams trailing him by several yards.
So as you can see from the above – just from a half against Temple and a half against Texas A&M – there are some issues for this pass defense that Guidry & Co. need to clean up moving forward. The bye week can be used to do that.
How he addresses it could very well mean the difference between this Hurricanes team being an ACC title contender … or a team that can’t hang with the better passing attacks from Louisville (nation’s No. 15 passing offense), North Carolina (No. 20 passing offense), Georgia Tech (No. 24 passing offense), Florida State (No. 32 passing offense) and Clemson (No. 37 passing offense).