CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Virginia Tech’s upset victory on Saturday continues to ripple through south Florida.
Miami coach Manny Diaz announced at his weekly news conference Monday that he will be taking a more active role in the Hurricanes’ defense in the wake of Tech’s 42-35 win at Hard Rock Stadium.
In reviewing the loss, Diaz downplayed the three early interceptions by starting quarterback Jarren Williams and the missed extra point in the fourth quarter that could have given Miami the lead, noting that such mistakes “can happen.”
“What can’t happen is the way we played defensively,” he said. “Surrendering 42 points to Virginia Tech, that’s not the Miami standard.”
The Hurricanes outgained the Hokies 563 yards to 337 and picked up 27 first downs to Tech’s 17. But Diaz was frustrated with his defense’s inability to keep Tech out of the end zone after early turnovers and the unit’s struggles during Tech’s game-winning drive.
Diaz rose to prominence as a defensive coordinator at multiple schools, including Miami from 2016-18. Ahead of Friday’s home game against Virginia, he will spend the majority of practice aiding defensive coordinator Blake Baker rather than switching between the offense and defense.
“Ultimately, I’m responsible for how we play on defense,” Diaz said. “There is a culture that was created here back in 2016 that for some reason we have not been able to recreate. It is not a coaching issue. It is not a scheme issue. This has nothing to do with Blake Baker or anyone on our defensive staff.
“This is simply just there is a lack of connection between the players on our defensive side of the ball. We just don’t look like we trust each other.”
Diaz gathered the entire defense on Sunday night and showed the players video of the Tech loss, pointing out every mistake. He said such sessions will continue weekly until the Hurricanes perform like their reputation demands.
Diaz won’t be calling defensive plays, because he argues that is not the problem.
“Schematically, we’ve played Virginia Tech four years in a row now,” he said. “They’ve run about the same plays all four years we’ve played them, and we’ve run about the same defense all four years we’ve played them. The last two years combined, I think they scored 24 points. … They scored 42 in our stadium [on Saturday].
“If it was a scheme fix, you’d fix the scheme. But I said this when I first got here: ‘It’s not about what you do. … It’s about how you do it.’ My concern is with our how, because our how has been pretty damn good around here, and I’ve got to get that how back.”
Baker was Diaz’s understudy at Louisiana Tech before running the Bulldogs’ defense for four seasons. He was hired as Miami’s coordinator in January after Diaz succeeded Mark Richt as the Hurricanes’ head coach.
“I’ve said all along since I’ve been here, the fact that I’ve been able to walk down the hall and pick [Diaz’s] brain at any time is awesome,” Baker said. “To me, the fact that he can be around more often and be the glue to put this thing back together and help out in any case he sees fit, who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want your mentor to come in and help you? I’m excited about it.”
Diaz said he was not upset with the Hurricanes’ effort, but rather their level of individual and collective accountability. He’s hoping his voice at practice will provide the leadership he’s found lacking.
“We’re five games in now,” he said. “It’s time for that to be filled. If it’s not being filled, it’s got to be filled by me. And that’s what’s going on now. I’m jumping right in the middle of it, and I’m going to make sure we’re all accountable. Just do what we’re supposed to do.”