At noon on Saturday, Miami will look to stop Georgia Tech’s triple option offense and the Hurricanes will count on three true freshmen linebackers to lead the way against the Yellow Jackets’ running game.
Shaq Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud will face the biggest challenge of their young careers when they take the field in Atlanta, but the trio is confident they are up to the task.
“We’re very confident,” Pinckney said of facing Georgia Tech. “The extra bye week gave us a chance to really learn their scheme and what they’re doing and what our jobs got to be. It’s an advantage. The challenges are getting harder and we’re getting smarter.”
Miami is 3-0 and heads to Georgia Tech fresh off a bye week. Quarterman, who has 12 tackles through three games, believes he and his fellow defenders benefitted from the extra time to prepare.
“Any time you have an extra week to prepare for any team it’s a good thing,” Quarterman said. “We had an extra week to prepare a little bit slower. It’s kind of like a math problem, you can go through it piece by piece.”
In addition to learning the intricacies of defending the triple option, McCloud believes the Canes benefitted from the rest and recovery that came with a week off.
“It helped us, not only with preparation mentally, but we were able to heal our bodies and get back in shape to be ready to perform,” McCloud said.
The trio of linebackers has worked extensively with Miami defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz to learn their keys for the week and each player knows that discipline will be essential to success.
“It all starts with eye discipline,” Quarterman said. “That’s actually their whole goal in their offense. If you don’t follow your keys and your eye progressions, things can escalate quickly.”
McCloud knows the temptation to leave assignments will come up on Saturday, but the Lantana, Fla., native understands that he and his teammates need to overcome the urge to freelance and stay on their key.
“You can’t try to make plays that are not meant for you,” McCloud said. “Everybody has their man and their assignment and you’ve just got to follow yours.”
For Pinckney, the biggest key is mental focus against a repetitive offense.
“They don’t do too many different things, so you have to do things over and over,” Pinckney said. “Just a lot of repetition. When you do something that’s the same a lot, you might mess up. We just have to stay focused. If you stop four or five plays, you took half their playbook out. We just have to swarm to the ball.”
While the Canes are set to match up against Georgia Tech’s highly deceptive offense, that does not mean they are going to change their approach too much. They have every intention of continuing their aggressive pursuit of the ball.
“It’s a bit of an adjustment, but you defeat this offense by playing fast,” Quarterman said. “They’re not really good with movement up front. Any time we have the opportunity to play fast and we do so, we’re going to create havoc.”
Miami’s defense is statistically ranked among the best in the country. The Hurricanes have the top scoring defense in the NCAA (7.7 points per game), and are first in team sacks (4.33 per game) and team tackles for loss (13.3 per game).