The defense aims to stay strong with Florida State

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami’s defense was strong in Saturday’s 14-12 four-overtime win at Virginia, holding the Cavaliers to a touchdown.

That proved to be the difference for the Hurricanes (4-4, 2-2 ACC), who are focused on rival Florida State (5-3, 3-3) come Saturday (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Mike Norvellhead coach, play caller, drafter — they’re very diverse in what they do,” the defensive coordinator said. Kevin Steele, who has not met Norvell in his career. “This is a little different. You can go into most games and say, ‘Okay, these are the basic things they’re going to do. You’re going to see them every week.” You can watch games against Florida State this year and you won’t see the same thing. One game is completely different than the next, so we’re going to have to be really good at adjusting to the unknown this week because we’re going to see things that aren’t on Florida State film. It’s the same runs and the same passes, but every week it’s disguised completely differently.”

Florida State led by a dual-threat quarterback Jordan Travisis second in the ACC in total offense (487.1 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (32.1 points per game).

Travis led Florida State to a 31-28 win over Miami last season, passing for a season-high 274 yards and running for 62 and two scores. Travis has been more efficient throwing the ball this year (second in the ACC with 2,057 yards and fourth with a 152.1 passer rating) and has a career-high 396 yards on 24-of-38 passing with three touchdowns in a 41-16 win over Georgia Tech.

“I think he stays in the pocket longer now,” Steele said. “Last year he would really pull it off and run fast. He stands in the pocket and things develop more for him. I think his game has slowed down. He throws really accurately, but there’s always the potential to beat you with his feet. It can escape. It’s a very, very good challenge for us to say the least.”

The Hurricanes enter the game ranked sixth in the ACC in total defense (341.8 yards per game) and eighth in scoring defense (22.5 points per game).

NEWS AND NOTES

DT Leonard Taylor earned ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors after recording six tackles, four for a loss and 1 ½ sacks with a 91.2 defensive grade according to Pro Football Focus against the Cavaliers. “When I sat down with him three weeks ago, things changed,” the head coach Mario Cristobal he said. “A real commitment to nutrition, lifting weights, lifting, working out, more film, understanding the defense and getting the assignments done. His plays were created using execution technique, fundamentals and assignments. He had a massive game. Saturday was a sign for me of what Leonard Taylor will be going forward. It’s another where the sky’s the limit. I can’t speak highly enough of Leonard Taylor’s performance on Saturday.” Taylor has 16 tackles, eight for a loss and three sacks in eight games this season.

The Hurricanes allowed three passes of at least 30 yards against the Cavaliers and now rank last in the ACC in passing yards allowed of 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 yards. Florida State ranks in the top five in all of these categories.

LB Wayne Steedwho started four of the first five games and recorded 11 tackles, has missed the last three games since making 11 appearances against North Carolina on Oct. 8. “Steed is injured and his injury is a little more serious,” Cristobal said.

LB Corey Flagg and Caleb Johnson they started together for the first time this season, even though Steele originally said they couldn’t play together because they played the same position. Says Steele now: “We felt that with the injury that Wesley (Bissainthe) had and Steed getting injured, we just felt that we would keep the top three on the pitch so that someone would have to move,” Steele said. “So Corey, who was more seasoned in what we were doing, moved into that position. Caleb didn’t move, he played the same position.” As for how the duo looked together, Steele replied, “They played well.

WITH James Williams (foot) missed the last game but wants to play on Saturday. “James is doing well,” Cristobal said. “He’s healthy and seems ready to go, no problems. Williams is second on the team with 32 tackles with one interception, one forced fumble and five pass breakups in seven games.

WITH Al Blades Jr. started in place of Williams and responded with three tackles in a season-high 53 snaps, earning a 73.2 defensive grade with a 72.6 coverage grade from PFF. “Al did a great job, he sure did,” Cristobal said. “He was mentally fine. As a defense, those guys communicated well and Al was a big reason for that as well. Everyone is really proud of him and really encouraged by his play because he did a really, really good job stepping in for James.”

DT Jared Harrison-Hunt posted a career-high PFF defensive grade of 89.6 while recording three tackles and one sack in 21 snaps. He has 15 tackles, three for a loss and two sacks in eight games this season.

DE Mitchell Agude made his second start of the season and played a season-high 56 snaps, earning a PFF-high grade (81.7) while leading the team in tackles (7) with one loss and ½ sack. He has 25 tackles, 3 ½ tackles for a loss and 2 ½ sacks in eight games this season. “He’s a football player,” Steele said. “He’s a very heavy-handed guy. He’s one of the best edge setters I’ve ever had in terms of when you have tight ends coming in or tight ends cutting across the back to block the defensive end. It’s pretty fun to watch. After the game starts and about the third time they get to Mitchell, they start to slow down a bit, some even turn their heads a bit. He’s just a physical guy. He likes to compete, is smart, very heavy-handed and very fat when he contacts you. He’s a good defensive end, especially when setting the edge, and then he’s relentless in the pass rush. He’s not the slick type of pass-rusher that some people are, but he’s so relentless that he’ll give you a physical workout at times.”

• CB Tyrique Stevenson on facing Florida State shortly after beating Virginia: “It’s definitely a big ballgame and I’m pretty sure they’re pumped, but I can tell you right now we’re pumped and we’re going to go out there and work. We can prepare as hard as possible for the game that awaits us on Saturday.”

LB Chase Smith, who started primarily on special teams in the early games of the season, was on crutches Monday with a right leg injury. “Chase is out,” Steele confirmed. LB Avery Huff appeared in the first seven games but did not start against Virginia for an unknown reason. With Steed and Smith and maybe Huff in addition to LB Wesley Bissainthe who struggled with injuries last game, the Hurricanes could go into the game with four linebackers available. “We’re at ground zero,” Steele said.

• Miami’s game at Georgia Tech on Nov. 12 will begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on RSN, the ACC announced Monday.

Christopher Stock has covered the Miami Hurricanes since 2003 and can be reached by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @InsideTheU.

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