For all of the criticisms Miami saw this season, few came from the defensive side of the ball. Miami’s defense during the 2017 season surged behind the “turnover chain.” This year saw a more complete effort. While most offenses in college football garnered the attention, Miami’s defense only allowed one team to score more than 28 points.
In terms of rankings, the Hurricanes defense finished second in total defense, and first in tackles for loss. In addition to those rankings, Miami also leads the nation in third down conversion rate, at under 24 percent. Consequently, the Hurricanes now have an All-American for the first time since 2005 in Gerald Willis.
Arguably the most important part of an attacking defense, like Miami’s, is the defensive line. This group surpassed expectations to be a good group. With the loss of two early draft entrants and the loss of a position coach, Miami showed no signs of any hindrance.
Spearheading the effort was Willis. After taking last season off for personal reasons, he returned with a vengeance. His season can be viewed as nothing less than historic as the senior is four tackles for loss away from tying the school record.
As stated Willis is the first All-American since 2005, however he was not the defensive line’s only standout. Joe Jackson leads the team in sacks with 14.5 tackles for loss and an interception return for a touchdown. Sophomore standout Jonathan Garvin is second on the team behind Willis in tackles for a loss with 16.
Overall these three did the grunt work of the defense causing pressure and chaos for opposing offense’s. First year coach Jess Simpson deserves plenty of credit for the success of this group in his first season as a collegiate coach.
From the time since Mark Richt took over the Hurricanes, there have been three anchors of his defense. Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud are now juniors with multiple years of starting experience. Although McCloud has split time this season along side Romeo Finley. He’s been a welcomed change to the defense, the former safety intercepted two passes this season.
Quarterman has taken the next step in his game and because of that was named as the first team All-ACC linebacker. He caught his first interception this season but caused the most disruption behind the line of scrimmage. His linebacker mate Pinckney wasn’t far from the action as he is half a tackle for loss away from having ten this year.
Manny Diaz has benefited from having three “veterans” as starters at the position. Now the Hurricanes have to be prepared to replace them as all three are draft eligible. Although Quarterman and Pinckney have the best possibility of getting drafted.
The Hurricanes finished with the number one pass defense in the country allowing only 140 yards per game. With three seniors in the secondary, the best player was arguably the sophomore Trajan Bandy. He lead the team in interceptions and passes defended leaving his mark as one of the best in the ACC.
Michael Jackson returned this season and many teams decided not to attempt many throws near him. For that reason, he has not recorded an interception this season. However he has been active making plays behind the line as he does have two sacks.
The glue to the secondary has been the safety tandem of Sheldrick Redwine and Jaquan Johnson. Since their childhood the two have been on the same team and their chemistry carried over on to the field. Despite missing two games, Johnson leads the team in tackles and could possibly have eclipsed 100 this season. The most improved in the secondary was without a doubt, Redwine. The Miami native is tied for the team lead in interceptions and with an additional three sacks.
The defensive staff should be applauded for having one of the best defenses the Hurricanes have produced in a decade. Moving forward, there will be younger players stepping into big roles in the Spring. On top of that, the Hurricanes athletic administration will soon have to put together a plan to keep Manny Diaz. He will for sure be a hot coaching name every off season.