The Miami Hurricanes defense will improve in 2014 but needs another year and influx of talent to get to the next level.
The Miami Hurricanes rolled to a 7-0 start and were a Top 10 team in early November, but a three-game losing streak weeks later truly defined the 2013 football season.
"The U" gave up 131 points and 1,631 yards in back-to-back-to-back games against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke—a harsh reminder that the Hurricanes still have a long way to go in their return to glory.
Miami finished 116th out of 120 Division I teams last year in total defense and arguably won't fare much better when this season is in the books. The Hurricanes secondary took a step forward and created its share of turnovers, but too many yards and points were given up week in and week out.
A "wait 'til next year" mantra has been thrown around Miami for over a decade. Regarding the defense, that could again be in play come 2014 due to some outbound upperclassmen, coupled with a freshman class that will be thrown into the fire.
The Hurricanes lose some depth on the defensive line with Curtis Porter, Luther Robinson and Shayon Green wrapping up their careers. The same goes with one-year transfers David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow, both added months back and relied upon for depth's sake.
Tyrone Cornelius and Jimmy Gaines depart at linebacker, while senior-to-be Denzel Perryman could be NFL-bound and financially motivated, having recently become a father.
The Hurricanes also parted ways with Eddie Johnson, Gionni Paul and Gabe Terry over the past year. Head coach Al Golden sent two of the three packing for disciplinary reasons—adding to a running total of 36 players from the 2010 through 2012 recruiting classes who no longer sport the orange and green.
A.J. Highsmith and Kacy Rodgers II are also moving on, though the Miami secondary is one area that can absorb the losses. Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter have emerged as a big-time cornerback threats, while Deon Bush should be fully recovered from offseason hernia surgery that hampered him for months.
Miami hauled in what appears to be some solid young defensive talent the past two years. Defensive linemen Tyriq McCord and Al-Quadin Muhammad appear primed to take a step forward, while Raphael Kirby, Jermaine Grace and Alex Figueroa are expected to shine at linebacker.
Artie Burns and Antonio Crawford saw some action at cornerback this fall, while Jamal Carter should provide depth at safety, where Rayshawn Jenkins has emerged.
The Hurricanes are understandably going defense-heavy with the 2014 recruiting class. Miami currently has 28 verbal commitments—13 of which are defenders, including eight linemen. ESPN ranks UM's class third in the nation behind Alabama and Tennessee, with a few remaining scholarships to hand out.
The Hurricanes take a hit on offense, saying goodbye to senior quarterback Stephen Morris, top wide receiver Allen Hurns and some veteran linemen in Brandon Linder, Jared Wheeler and Seantrel Henderson.
A year ago, Miami's offense bailed out a struggling defense, which wasn't the case often enough this season.
After losing running back Duke Johnson to a broken ankle at Florida State, the Hurricanes' ground game sputtered and the red-zone offense tightened up. In a 48-30 loss at Duke, Miami settled for field goals of 32, 31 and 31 yards while only scoring 23 offense points, despite 565 total yards.
The Hurricanes enter spring with an unknown at quarterback, as Ryan Williams and Kevin Olsen are expected to battle it out. Miami also lacks a solid No. 2 runner behind Johnson—something No. 8 had as a freshman last year with the reliable Mike James sharing carries.
Dallas Crawford was serviceable when asked to step up at running back this season, but consistency and overall production remained off the past four games.
Gus Edwards will return as a sophomore, while UM has verbals from a pair of 4-star running backs in Brandon Powell and Joseph Yearby. The Canes are also working to earn a commitment from Dalvin Cook, Yearby's 4-star teammate at nearby Miami Central.
Until quarterback and running back situations are solved, Miami's defense will continue to pay a price in Golden's fourth year but should turn the corner by 2015.
The Hurricanes are certainly righting the ship regarding depth and an upgrade in talent, but until experience and more upperclassmen are again the norm, Miami remains in repair.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.