The Miami Hurricanes' swarming defense has been a surprise storyline early in the 2013 season.
A handful of Miami Hurricane offensive players earned their way on to some preseason watch lists, but it's UM's suffocating defense that's making headlines out the gate.
Miami overwhelmed winless South Florida 49-21 on Saturday afternoon in a game nowhere near as close as the final score indicates. The Hurricanes scored fast and quick, putting the Bulls in an early hole that proved impossible to recover from.
After the two teams traded touchdown drives on their opening possessions, it was all Miami. The Hurricanes defense ratcheted things up a notch, and the overmatched Bulls quickly withered in the central Florida heat. Miami held South Florida to 288 total yards and hunted down quarterback Stephen Bench all afternoon.
For a defense that finished 116th out of 120 Division-I squads last season, the Hurricanes' early dominance on that side of the ball has been one of the more compelling storylines in college football. Five forced turnovers proved to be the difference in an upset of No. 12 Florida three weeks back, and Miami hasn't let up since.
Miami defenders are again swarming, delivering monster hits and demonstrating a nose for getting turnovers. The entire defense is dictating the course of the game, giving this unit a throwback feel.
A sack by linebacker Thurston Armbrister on South Florida's second possession proved to be a drive killer. Early in the second quarter defensive end Shayon Green channeled his inner Vince Wilfork, as the defensive tackle tossed Bench to the turf, forcing a fumble that linebacker Jimmy Gaines recovered for a touchdown, giving Miami a 28-7 lead.
Besides being a year older and wiser, Miami's defense has improved thanks to a focus on nutrition as well as strength and conditioning.
Months back, head coach Al Golden stated that his team blew the doors off his annual conditioning test—a perfect score, in comparison to 2010 when only half the squad passed.
"The culture is changing," Golden told the Sun Sentinel mid-August. "The conditioning, the fact that they're embracing it and the attitude...they demolished it. Literally, just absolutely crushed it and I know they feel good about it, to be honest with you. They feel like they killed it."
Golden went on to explain that the total weight gain on defense was 155 pounds this offseason, and Miami has been throwing its weight around ever since, which couldn't be better timing-wise.
Nine years into its tenure in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Miami has yet to reach the title game. The Hurricanes self-imposed postseason ban from last year means they've forfeited a shot at an Orange Bowl berth when they take on archrival Florida State in early November.
Reaching Charlotte is one of many team goals this season, as was the Week 2 upset of Florida. Miami is now 4-0 for the first time since 2004 and enters conference play with a bounce in its step on both sides of the ball.
Georgia Tech was expected to compete for a Coastal Division crown, but fell to Virginia Tech, 17-10, on Thursday night. North Carolina, also expected to be a contender, now sits at 1-3, having fallen to East Carolina, 55-31, earlier today.
What appeared to be a tough ACC schedule a few weeks back now seems like smooth sailing, if Miami's defense continues its run of dominance. Georgia Tech and North Carolina, UM's next two opponents, are struggling offensively, as is 2-2 Wake Forest, which has its hands full with Clemson today.
Assuming the Miami offense can maintain its current level of play, the Hurricanes just might be able to ride its defense to a 7-0 start and monster showdown at Florida State on November 2, where a win would officially put UM one step closer to being "back."
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog