CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami coach Al Golden can rattle off the names of just about every rookie who played defense for the Canes in 2012.
It’s not a quick conversation.
The Canes were the second-youngest team in the BCS behind Boston College, and a total of 21 freshmen played last year, including 16 true freshmen -- six of whom started at least one game on defense.
“There are so many,” Golden said. “There were so many young guys who had to play before they were really ready to play. Although there were some really tough moments on defense, everybody’s back, and everyone should be more mature and stronger and grown up. I expect them to really rise to the challenge now.”
They’re going to have to if Miami is going return to the top of the Coastal Division standings. Miami’s defense was one of the worst in the country last season, as it finished 116th in total defense, 112th in rushing defense and No. 82 in scoring defense, allowing 30.5 points per game. Those within the program are hoping last year’s growing pains pay dividends in experience this fall, as 10 starters return to the defense, including all four starters on the defensive line.
There were games last year in which Miami rotated about 27 players.
“We had to make a commitment to do that so we have an opportunity to win games in the fourth quarter and not get tired out,” said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. “In the long run, I think that will help us. I don’t see us having to be as deep this year, to be honest with you.”
There was also a significant increase in defensive plays last year. Some of that could be attributed to Miami’s offense scoring quickly, but it was also a product of Miami not getting off the field quick enough. The Canes were No. 82 in the country in third-down conversion defense. Miami was also one of the most penalized teams in the country (No. 107).
“We had more defensive penalties last year than any team I’ve ever been around as a defensive coordinator or a head coach,” Golden said. “A lot of that is just having too many young guys.”
That will change this year. Miami’s defensive line is expected to be a veteran group, led by junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo, senior defensive tackle Curtis Porter, junior tackle Olsen Pierre and senior defensive end Shayon Green. Golden said Pierre has developed physically, blocks well laterally and might be the most improved player of the group.
“We had so many guys that it was their first time playing,” Chickillo said. “College football is tough. We had a lot of guys making mental errors, not being in their gap when they were supposed to be there, blown coverages, too many things that really hurt us. Just not playing assignment football. It’s frustrating, but we’re going to be better for it in the future. So many guys got playing time and got to see what it’s like. Some young guys experienced success. We’re going to be better for it in the future.”