Miami-OH: Beyond the Box Score Defensive Preview

Yesterday we looked at a Miami offense that hasn't been good since 2005.  What does the defense have to offer?

Defense

Overall Ranks

F/+: 78th

S&P+: 72nd
Success Rate+: 75th
PPP+: 71st

Standard Downs S&P+: 102nd
Passing Downs S&P+: 51st

Redzone S&P+: 106th

Q1 S&P+: 70th
Q2 S&P+: 86th
Q3 S&P+: 93rd
Q4 S&P+: 79th

1st Down S&P+: 109th
2nd Down S&P+: 78th
3rd Down S&P+: 44th

Rushing Ranks

Rushing S&P+: 107th
Rushing SR+: 104th
Rushing PPP+: 107th

Standard Downs: 109th
Passing Downs: 105th

Redzone: 113th

Adj. Line Yards: 115th

Passing Ranks

Passing S&P+: 45th
Passing SR+: 35th
Passing PPP+: 49th

Standard Downs: 97th
Passing Downs: 32nd

Redzone: 84th

Adj. Sack Rate: 38th
SD Sack Rate: 76th
PD Sack Rate: 56th

Comparatively speaking, Miami's defense was the strength of the team last year.  They couldn't stop the run to save their lives, but the pass defense was downright decent (better than Mizzou's, anyway), and they were rock solid on third downs/passing downs.  If Mizzou is unfocused on first downs, that could result in trouble.  Not too much trouble, but a bit of annoyance, anyway.

Miami's strong performance on passing downs seems driven quite a bit by the pass rush, so when we look at the personnel below, keep that in mind.

Rankings History

Category 2005
Rk
2006
Rk
2007
Rk
2008
Rk
2009
Rk
F/+ N/A* 84 81 112 78
S&P+ 91 92 83 111 72
Success Rate+ 79 88 95 103 75
PPP+ 99 97 74 112 71
Rushing S&P+ 102 105 106 114 107
Passing S&P+ 77 85 65 105 45
Standard Downs S&P+ 95 103 85 118 102
Passing Downs S&P+ 56 78 77 81 51
Adj. Line Yards 95 103 102 82 115
Adj. Sack Rate 89 61 55 86 38
* F/+ data does not exist for offenses and defenses until the 2006 season.

Aside from 2008, when everything completely fell apart, Miami has had reasonably decent MAC defenses.  The MAC isn't given a lot of credit in these numbers, so anything ranked 90th or better is solid, really.  And to rank in the top fifty in Passing S&P+, Adj. Sack Rate and (almost) Passing Downs S&P+ is an accomplishment.  But as you see, Adj. Sack Rate is extremely fluid ... it changes rather drastically from one year to another.  It could tumble this year simply because opponents have a better read for how and when they blitz.  You can't consistently build a solid defense around just sack rates, but as we'll see below, enough personnel returns that they may be able to prop up the D with sacks for at least one more season.

Defensive Line

2009 Unit Ranking: 85th (6th in the MAC)

Projected DE Depth Chart
Will Diaz (6'5, 251, So., 11.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF)
Morris Council (6'2, 267, Jr., 18.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR IN 2008)
Matt Kajmowicz (6'4, 256, Jr., 15.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU)
Wes Williams (6'3, 240, So., 9.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT)
Mike Johnson (6'4, 282, So.)
Jason Semmes (6'3, 244, So., Iowa transfer)

Projected DT Depth Chart
Austin Brown (6'2, 275, So., 26.0 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 2 blocked kicks)
Jordain Brown (6'0, 296, Jr., 7.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU)
Anthony Shoemaker (6'4, 259, So., 2.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks)
D.J. Svabik (6'6, 283, Sr., 1.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks)
Jordan Stevens (6'4, 254, Sr., 1.0 tackles)
Andrew Muller (6'4, 276, RSFr.)

As we dive into the defensive line and linebacker rankings, I should mention something: D-line rankings are contingent on Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rates.  If you blitz really, really well, it will reflect well on your DL rankings more than your LB rankings; until I have a better way to involve individual player stats into my unit rankings (right now that's not a great option), that's just the way it goes.  So even though Miami's D-line ranked 6th in the MAC and their LBs ranked 10th, I would think about flipping those.  This team's success was based around their ability to get to the quarterback and make plays in the backfield.  As we see with the individual stats, it was a linebacker (Jerrell Wedge) making most of the big plays.  Meanwhile, again, they couldn't stop the run to save their lives.

That said, Miami's line was extremely young last year, starting two freshmen and a sophomore.  Now, it's two sophomores and a junior, with likely either another sophomore or junior filling in the new slot at defensive tackle.  They most likely had to blitz to do damage on passing downs, but it will be interesting to see what this good-sized line (especially at end) can do with more experience.

Linebackers

2009 Unit Ranking: 97th (10th in the MAC)

Projected Depth Chart
Jerrell Wedge (5'9, 222, Jr., 80.0 tackles, 18.5 TFL/sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Evan Harris (6'0, 222, So., 42.5 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR, 1 PBU)
DeAndre Gilmore (6'1, 236, Sr., 23.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
Luke Kelly (6'2, 217, So., 17.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks)
Ryan Kennedy (6'1, 227, Jr., 0.5 tackles)
Austin Moore (6'0, 233, So., 4.5 tackles)
C.J. Marck (6'1, 247, So., UConn transfer)
Jaytee Swanson (6'2, 224, So., 4.5 tackles)
Alex Kaufman (6'2, 233, Jr.)

Successful mid-major teams find the players that are a little too short, big, small, or slow but have tremendous instincts and solid ability.  It seems like Boise State always has some 6-foot-0 defensive tackle, recruited by no major programs, doing damage in the middle.  For Miami, meanwhile, it's all about Jerrell Wedge.  He's shorter than your average cornerback, but he was by far the best player on the Miami defense last season.  Obviously he's not a threat to go pro early, so the Redhawks will have him for two more seasons.  When you add up the returning players' 2009 tackles for loss, you'll see that Wedge had 18.5, and the rest of the front seven returnees combined had 23.5.  He is their star.

Evan Harris' freshman play was also encouraging, and when combined with Wedge, a couple other returning sophomores, and UConn transfer C.J. Marck, there are the makings of a very strong (for a MAC team, anyway) linebacking corps over the next few years.  We'll see what they're able to do against a solid major conference offense, but if Miami succeeds in the MAC this year, chances are the quarterback and the linebackers are the reasons why.

Secondary

2009 Unit Ranking: 47th (4th in the MAC)

Projected CB Depth Chart
Brandon Stephens (5'10, 205, Sr., 46.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 2 INT, 6 PBU)
D.J. Brown (6'1, 174, So., 25.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 2 PBU)
Cornelius Ward (6'1, 190, Jr., 0.5 tackles)
Jonathan Wells (5'8, 182, Jr.)
Tyrone Jones (5'7, 178, Jr.)
Jordan Padgett (6'1, 197, RSFr.)

Projected S Depth Chart
Anthony Kokal (6'0, 202, Jr., 79.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Jordan Gafford (6'0, 207, Sr., 49.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, PBU)
Peris Edwards (6'1, 197, Sr., 12.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks IN 2008)
Justin Bowers (5'10, 206, So., 24.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 PBU)
Pat Hinkel (6'1, 200, So., 10.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Sam Olberding (6'3, 219, RSFr.)

As with Mizzou, the secondary is by far the most experienced unit on the team, even though they're looking at only starting two seniors. Anthony Kokal, approximately the 19th Kokal to play for Miami in the last decade, had a very solid year as Miami's safety valve, while other safeties like Jordan Gafford and Justin Bowers were able to make some plays as well (a combined 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles is a nice total for a pair of safeties -- Jasper Simmons and Jarrell Harrison combined for 5.5 and 2.

Special Teams

2009 Unit Ranking: 120th (13th in the MAC)

Place-kicking: 120th
Net Punting: 118th
Net Kicking: 111th
Returns: 105th

Projected Starters
K Trevor Cook (6'2, 197, Sr., 16-for-19 PAT, 7-for-12 FG, long: 55)
P Jim Broadway (6'0, 181, So., 17 punts, 34.6 avg.)
KR Jamal Rogers (5'11, 172, Sr., 22 returns, 18.0 avg.)
PR Jamal Rogers (5'11, 172, Sr., 3 returns, 11.0 avg.)

Worst special teams unit in the country last year.  No returns threat, poor punting and coverage, and a kicker with a strong leg (he did boom a 55-yarder) and absolutely no consistency or accuracy whatsoever.  And it's hard to see any of that changing this year.  Obviously if Mizzou's problems on kickoff coverage continue, that will open up a door for Miami to succeed at a higher level there than they are used to, but ... yeah, this is a poor unit.  If Mizzou loses the special teams battle, they had a really poor game.

Summary

If Miami can leverage Mizzou into some passing situations, it does appear that they might be able to blitz well enough to possibly get into Blaine Gabbert's head a little bit.  But ... and I realize Mizzou isn't the world's greatest running team when I say this ... if their run defense doesn't improve, Mizzou might almost never see a passing down.  When we think about what worked for Mizzou at the end of last year -- Derrick Washington averaged six yards per carry over the last four games, and Mizzou went to the sideline passes early and often, with quite a bit of success -- that is pretty much the exact recipe it will take to torch Miami for 45+ points.

If Mike Haywood is able to recruit well (for a MAC school), then he should pretty quickly be able to mix experience with improving talent, and Miami's MAC lot in life could improve over the next couple of years.  But despite the jinxing power of my saying this, they are not ready to beat a team like Missouri and probably won't be for a while.  Haywood has to rebuild this once proud program from scratch, and while his team got a lot of worthy experience last season, it probably won't pay off just yet.

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