Miami Hurricanes defense comes ‘back down to earth’ in season-opener

Jaquan Johnson (4) and Shaq Quarterman (55) stop Bethune-Cookman receiver Frank Brown. (Getty Images)

[Five things we learned from Miami-BCU]

[Photo gallery from Miami’s big opening-game win]

[Richt’s postgame comments]

[Live blog: All the action as it happened]

[Pregame notes, photos, video]

MIAMI GARDENS — Shaq Quarterman speaks bluntly about the goals of this defense has set.

He’s no different when the defense doesn’t reach them.

On the ground, 4.0 yards per carry. Through the air, 9.2 yards. On the whole, 350 yards of offense, a touchdown and two field goals, given up to an FCS team.

Those numbers were more than good enough to beat Bethune-Cookman 41-13 on Saturday. In Quarterman’s eyes, they were ugly.

“This brings us back down to earth,” he said. “Since the offseason, the media and everybody else has been saying how great this defense is. … Them putting up points was not good. We can’t have that. Against anybody.”

The external hype is one thing. Daily beat reporters, regional outlets and national media alike believe the Hurricanes can be one of the ACC’s best units. But that feeling comes from the wealth of talent returning in the front seven and some key additions to the back end, bolstering a unit that finished 12th nationally in points allowed last year.

Miami wasn’t at its sharpest Saturday, to be sure. The Hurricanes had a few coverage busts. They occasionally took poor angles. Though they produced several big hits — freshman Amari Carter‘s bone-crushing forced fumble will be one of his career highlights — they weren’t, on the whole, the rugged tackling unit of last year. BCU held the ball for 34:29, producing an opening drive that lasted 7:35, and moved the ball well enough to convert 8-of-17 third downs and 2-of-2 fourth downs.

Quarterman might appreciate this frank review: Every other team on Miami’s schedule would have fared a lot better against the group that showed up Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz didn’t address reporters afterward, but Mark Richt spoke for him.

“I’m sure Manny is not totally excited,” he said. “We’re not on offense, either. … Not everybody played perfect, but a lot of people got to play.”

Diaz, whose defense created negative plays didn’t dial up every blitz in his arsenal. No reason to do so against an FCS team, certainly not with Florida State looming in two weeks. Why put anything special on tape?

Vanilla game plan or not, Sunday’s film study is likely to be an unpleasant one. Diaz and his assistants will point out

It wasn’t a big-play party like last year’s FCS opener. Against Florida A&M in 2016, UM had three sacks, 15 tackles for loss and two interceptions.

Saturday, the Hurricanes produced one sack, by defensive end Demetrius Jackson. They had seven tackles for loss, recorded by six players.

Cornerback Malek Young snatched the only pick, outsmarting a receiver in the end zone. In a moment that instantly went viral, staffer Joel Rodriguez placed an oversize golden necklace with a “U” logo pendant around Young’s neck. He proudly wore it on the sideline. Later we learned they’re calling it the “Turnover Chain”: create a turnover, wear the necklace.

It was a Diaz invention, players said, sprung on them Saturday morning. It looks like something L.L. Cool J wore in 1987.

Quarterman called it “Miami-style.” He also claimed it’s real gold. If true, that would be one expensive — and heavy — piece of jewelry.

“It’s crazy what motivates,” Richt said.

It’s fun to celebrate with gaudy gifts, but nothing motivates players like errors on film.

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