On a couple occasions, it’s been both.
Whatever the reason, Miami simply cannot keep the same 11 defensive players on the field to start football games — a trend that continues this week, when the Hurricanes (2-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to face the daunting rushing offense of Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-1).
With starting linebacker Denzel Perryman out for at least this week because of an injured ankle, Miami will use its fourth different defensive starting lineup in as many games this season and the 13th in 16 games since Al Golden was hired to coach the Hurricanes. And if there was ever a week where Miami might not have wanted to tinker with the depth chart, it might have been this one, since the Yellow Jackets average 374 rushing yards per game.
“It’s beyond unbelievable,” Golden said. “That’s all I can say. It’s beyond unbelievable. I appreciate all the young guys that are stepping up right now and playing a lot. They’re competing. We’ve got to keep pushing them forward. But clearly, that’s not normal.”
The trend started at the very beginning of last season, when Miami had a slew of players miss the season-opener against Maryland because of some NCAA-mandated suspensions for compliance violations.
The revolving door into the defensive huddle hasn’t stopped spinning on game days since.
Miami has already inserted 16 different players into the defensive starting lineup, a number that’s assured to grow by at least one this week when someone — likely either Gionni Paul or Jimmy Gaines — gets the call to start in Perryman’s place at linebacker, a position where the Hurricanes have been particularly snakebitten in 2012.
The Hurricanes start three linebackers. It just hasn’t been the same three for any game this season, a trend that continues Saturday.
“It’s not necessarily hard to believe,” defensive back Brandon McGee said. “It’s college football. It’s football in general. Injuries occur. Some guys step up and they’re able to make plays. The coaches will put the right guys that they see fit into the game.”
And if that means choosing younger players, Miami has no issue with that. The Hurricanes have 17 freshmen and sophomores on the defensive two-deep alone.
“We know things can happen in football,” wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “Football is a physical sport. People are going to get injured. Some things are going to happen. You just have to work with what you’ve got.”
There is one clear piece of good lineup news for Miami, especially this week against Georgia Tech’s spread option, that being the starting defensive front four hasn’t needed any adjustment this season. The depth chart there is unchanged, with Anthony Chickillo, Darius Smith, Olsen Pierre and Shayon Green all set to start together up front once again for the Hurricanes.
If there’s a team that seems to have a history of figuring out Georgia Tech’s distinctive scheme, it’s Miami.
The Hurricanes gave up only 134 rushing yards in a win over the Yellow Jackets last season — by far the best effort against them. Georgia Tech managed at least 243 yards on the ground in all of its other games in 2011, averaging nearly 332 against all other foes.
Miami has won three straight in the series with Georgia Tech, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 92-34.
“We’re looking up at them in the conference standings, so it’s a huge game for us,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Miami has handled us fairly easily the last couple years. So we have to see if we can’t put our big-boy pants on and play a little better against them.”