If you saw the Miami Hurricanes defense last season, you may have noticed an over-sized cuban link chain around the players. This is what became known nationally as the “Turnover Chain.” And there is a good chance that Jaquan Johnson was the player wearing it. If Miami’s safety wasn’t wearing it himself, he likely helped cause the turnover. Perhaps the best news that head coach Mark Richt received in the offseason was that Jaquan Johnson would be returning for his senior season. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has been adamant about Johnson’s ability even before he was a full time starter. During the 2016 season Miami used him in the nickel position and in rotation with starters Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter. Last season, as a full time starter, he displayed why Diaz refers to him as “heart and soul” of the defense.
Stepping Up To The Challenge
Going into last season, many questioned the Miami secondary of Miami after losing seniors Jenkins and Carter. Immediately after their departure, Johnson became the most experienced player at the position, even while just rotating in 2016. Even during film sessions in the spring it was Johnson who coaches would use as an example of how to properly execute a technique. In the spring he continued to impress and the questions moved on to who would be the other safety starting alongside Johnson.
The staff ended up moving then-cornerback, Sheldrick Redwine, to safety and paired him with his friend. The two played together in youth football and attended the same high school, Miami-Killian. So naturally when Redwine needed help adjusting to the new position Johnson was there to help. The two being roommates also helped Redwine learn the playbook from the safety position much faster.
Playmaking and Leadership
Jaquan Johnson is a natural born leader and coaches started seeing that character trait start to emerge. Safeties coach Ephriam Banda when speaking about Johnson, said that “[Johnson] is dying to lead. Even toward the end of Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins’ senior year, you saw the maturity. You saw him wanting to grab the reins. The boys actually kind of let him a little bit, too, and he took off.”
Naturally that carried over when it became his time to lead the Miami defense. And there was no better time than back-to-back primetime matchups against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Both teams faced Miami as one-loss ranked opponents and had beaten Miami in 2016. In those games Johnson shined the brightest against Virginia Tech, with his one handed interception making highlight reels.
However the game could have went another way if not for a play made by Johnson that doesn’t receive attention. With 25 seconds left before the half, Virginia Tech was down by 11 points and had the ball within Miami’s red zone. A miscommunication by Miami leaves them with ten players on the field, and coincidentally Virginia Tech calls a tunnel screen. This would put the offensive lineman out in space against much smaller defensive backs and the outside receiver should find his way back inside, like a tunnel, for a score because Miami is short a defender. The heroics of Jaquan Johnson end up meeting the receiver in the middle where he puts his helmet on the ball, causing a fumble.
Anybody peep that on the play where Quan forced the fumble vs VT it was only 10 players on the field? RJ still ran it back for 35 yards pic.twitter.com/kCdyKrHbpb
— ‘Lip’ Gallagher (@justhebreu) November 15, 2017
Underrated No Longer
Plays like those seemed to be the norm in the following weeks against Notre Dame and Virginia. The Hurricanes faced Notre Dame as underdogs even while being the home team. Those around the team saw a shift in the team’s mentality after Johnson addressed the team. His interception would also be the first of three from the Miami defense. Against Virginia, it was an interception that he returned for a touchdown to tie the game that would be the defining play of that game.
His efforts during that stretch would make Jaquan Johnson a three time ACC defensive back of the week in three consecutive weeks. For the season he would help accumulate nine turnovers (forced fumbles, interceptions and recovered fumbles). Sports Illustrated would name him as a second team All-American and he would be named All-ACC Second Team. Johnson returns for his final season chasing a title, in his last go around in a Hurricane jersey.