Bailey’s surge comes at key time for No. 22 Miami

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CORAL GABLES, FLA. (AP) - Miami coach Randy Shannon has seen this before. When seniors start to realize they have just a handful of games left in their college career, their productivity typically soars.

Apparently, Allen Bailey is at that point.

For someone touted as one of the nation’s very best defensive linemen coming into the season, Bailey’s senior year at Miami has been nothing short of statistically baffling. He had only one sack in a 10-game stretch going back to last season _ and followed that by collecting 4 1/2 sacks in Miami’s last two games alone.

“Now Allen is coming around,” Shannon said. “It’s about who’s hot at any given time. And right now, he’s hot. It’s a good thing to have happen, with people concentrating on other guys.”

There’s been other defensive linemen with big games for 22nd-ranked (5-2, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) this season, like Olivier Vernon, Micanor Regis and Andrew Smith, who’ve combined for 16 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Opposing teams know they can’t be ignored, and that means Bailey can no longer be the total focus of blocking schemes _ as seemed to be the case early in the year.

So Bailey _ who’s getting used at both end and tackle _ is finding room to move, collecting 3 1/2 sacks in last Saturday’s win over North Carolina. It might not be any coincidence that Bailey’s most productive two games have come in Miami’s two outings since the loss to Florida State, a defeat that took away any real margin for error the Hurricanes have in the ACC race.

“I’ve been relaxing and having fun, and it just came,” said Bailey, a 6-foot-4, 285-pounder from Sapelo, Ga. who considered turning pro at the end of last season, but returned to chase an ACC championship ring. “The whole team’s having fun. … It’s all the work paying off.”

Miami’s offensive line is even reaping the benefits of facing guys like Bailey every day in practice.

The Hurricanes _ who gave up 35 sacks last season _ have allowed only eight so far in 2010. And the defense, which recorded 24 sacks in 13 games last year, has already eclipsed that total with 25 through this season’s first seven games.

“When you go against those, it kind of sharpens up your tools for the game Saturday,” Miami center Tyler Horn said. “Every once in a while I’ll get to go against Allen. You know it’s a fight. You’ve got to realize who you’re blocking, and it’s like, ‘Oh, crap, Allen Bailey is on me. I can’t take this play off.’”

If that’s how Horn feels, imagine what opposing teams must be thinking when they see the guy who packs so much mass into his jersey so much that his No. 57 seems to stretch from one side of his torso to the other. Miami is second nationally in both tackles for loss and sacks per game.

Virginia (3-4, 0-3) has struggled at times keeping quarterback Marc Verica on his feet. The Cavaliers have allowed 17 sacks so far, and it’s no surprise that pass protection is a key this week with Bailey and his pals coming to visit Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday.

“Defensively, when you lead the country in tackles for losses, that means you have guys up front penetrating, coming off the edge, doing some things to create second-and-longs, third-and-longs,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “They have guys that can rush, 300-plus pounders, and they push the pocket pretty well.”

Shannon and Bailey’s linemates agree, the stats of late are misleading.

Bailey, they say, was being as effective for Miami earlier in the season as he was now, even though he wasn’t getting sacks. When it came to the numbers, they weren’t worried, and neither was Bailey _ who leads Miami’s defensive linemen with 27 tackles.

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