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Canes Defense Must Step Up In 2013

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Hurricanes enter the 2013 season looking to accomplish something they haven't been able to do since 2006, win a bowl game.

Not only that, but Miami hasn't finished ranked in the Top 25 since 2009, which is the only time the team has finished ranked since 2005, the year before the end of the Larry Coker era at UM.

The once-storied program comes into 2013 off a 7-5 campaign that would have seen the team go bowling and make it to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game had the school not self-imposed a postseason ban for the second consecutive year.

Miami was able to accomplish the 7-5 campaign thanks in large part to a powerful offense, but if the team is to go anywhere further than just a bowl game; it will need a better effort out of a defense that was pushed around in 2012.

The Canes surrendered 30.5 points per game last year, which was 10th worst out of the 12 team ACC. Miami was especially vulnerable on the ground where the Hurricanes surrendered nearly 218 yards per game on the ground and 29 rushing touchdowns, worst in the ACC.

The Canes passing defense wasn't much better, surrendering a league-worst 268.5 yards per game, but only gave up 15 touchdowns through the air. Miami also allowed opponents to amass a completion percentage of 60.8 percent for the season.

All total, UM's defense was statistically the worst in the Atlantic Coast Conference giving up an average of 486.4 yards per game, or roughly 6.11 yards per play.

Complicating matters for UM's defensive woes is the team has just one player returning this season who had more than 1.5 sacks last season. Anthony Chickillo had four total sacks last season, which paced the team. As a team, UM only had 13 sacks through the 2012 season.

For comparison purposes, Florida State University's top-ranked defense had 36 sacks through the 2012 season, averaging nearly three per game.

Needless to say, one of the keys to Miami's success will be to get some pressure on the quarterback and push in the interior defensive line against the running game.

On the other side of the ball, Miami's passing game was one of the best in the ACC in 2012. Led by quarterback Stephen Morris, the Hurricanes aerial attack amassed a total of 3,545 yards through the air along with 23 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

Morris put up a 138.07 quarterback rating while completing 58.2 percent of his passes. He ended the season averaging 278.8 yards per game, or roughly 7.9 yards per attempt. Morris saved two of his best performances for the final two games of the season.

Against South Florida, Morris led the Canes to a 40-9 victory by completing 25 of 37 passes for 463 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Morris followed that up with a 52-45 thrilling victory over Duke throwing for 398 yards on 16 of 27 passing for three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Still, the Canes offense was minus six in average number of first downs per game. Part of that is due to Miami's explosive offense and porous defense. The Canes averaged 46.2 yards and 11.4 fewer plays than their opponents last season.

Miami will turn to Duke Johnson to put together another stellar campaign after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards as a true freshman. Johnson's big play ability helped him average 6.8 yards per game while running for 947 yards in split duty with Mike James.

Johnson finished with 1,168 yards from scrimmage along with 11 touchdowns, as a true freshman. At least in the offensive backfield, the Hurricanes have the looks of a contender.

The final part of the equation Miami must deal with is the NCAA. The NCAA's Committee on Infractions is expected to rule on the school's Nevin Shapiro scandal and could impose new penalties or accept the school's self-imposed penalties.

The NCAA's decision is likely to come in August or early September, near the beginning of the season.

But, the Canes have shown the ability to put the NCAA issues behind them and if the team's defense can improve over last year's abysmal showing, the team could be in line for at least a bowl game, if not more in 2013.

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