To a certain degree, turnovers are lucky plays.
A football is oblong with pointed ends, and with thousands of pounds of humanity crashing around, there’s little telling which way it can bounce. A fumble recovery can be the reward for a fortunate carom, as well as who emerges from the kickin’ and a-gougin’ at the bottom of a pile.
Miami’s turnovers of late have seemed anything but random.
The Hurricanes are tied for fourth in takeaways (24) and have 16 in their last four games. UM is the first FBS team to force at least four turnovers in four straight games against Power Five opponents since at least 2004. There have been tipped passes and lucky bounces, but Miami’s speed, skill and aggressive scheme contributes to their opponents’ mistakes.
“There’s no doubt it does seem it does have an effect that, for whatever reason, when we get the first one, the second one is not going to be far off,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “And it feels almost it has a similar effect in a negative way to the other team.”
The Turnover Chain has become the nationally recognized symbol of this Miami season. It’s also something opponents are talking about. Virginia coach Bronco Mendehall, whose team faces the Hurricanes on Saturday (noon, ABC), admitted it was “really cool.”
“All week, it is probably such a major point of emphasis for them to not turn the ball over and they talk about how they’re not going to turn it over against us,” Diaz said. “Then all of a sudden, when a turnover occurs, it seems they are suffering a letdown as much as we’re benefiting from a boost by getting our first turnover of the game. They’ve obviously been coming in bunches.
Up next: With backup strong-side linebacker Charles Perry (Royal Palm Beach) out for the year, true freshman De’Andre Wilder will see more action. Wilder (6-3, 202) has been a special-teamer thus far.
“Wilder has been training for this moment,” Diaz said. “He adds an element of speed, which you want. Got to be stout to be able to play the run and tackle and agile enough to go out there and be out where all the wideouts are. We have been impressed with him since he’s been here. We tell these guys you never know when your chance is going to come. And here it is.”
True freshman defensive end Jonathan Garvin, who has a strip-sack and fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of each of Miami’s last two games, has played more because of the season-ending injury to Demetrius Jackson. Diaz said another true freshman, D.J. Johnson, is primed for a larger role, too.
“He’s not far away,” Diaz said. “We’re aware we’re losing two great senior ends in Chad Thomas and Trent Harris. Certainly athletically, for a man his size (6-5, 240) who can run is special and unique.”
Johnson’s lack of snaps on defense — he has played on special teams — isn’t unusual, even though he was Miami’s top-rated 2017 recruit (four stars, with a reported 100 scholarship offers). UM hoped to redshirt defensive end Joe Jackson last year, but Jackson was forced into action because of injuries and the dismissal of Al-Quadin Muhammd. “Joe just had to play because of our numbers. Remember last year we were inventing defensive ends midway through the season,” Diaz said, referring to tackle Anthony Moten playing outside at one point.
Like many young defensive ends, Johnson has lots of speed and power for pass-rushing, but his playing time will depend on how he performs against the run. “It’s not the old days, where you just race around the edge on every single play,” Diaz said. “[It’s] understanding all the different ways when you have to play the dive and when you have to play the quarterback. The more he gets comfortable with that, I really think he’ll make a major impact on our team.”
Secondary shining: The most pleasant surprise of the season continues to be the way Miami’s secondary has performed after losing four players to the NFL. “I think the way the guys in the back end stepped up relative to their experience and the numbers we’ve put up with our pass defense has been fantastic,” Diaz said.
He is playing a versatile, playmaking group of corners — Michael Jackson (four interceptions), Malek Young, Trajan Bandy, Dee Delaney and Jhavonte Dean — with a mix of size (both large and small) and speed. At safety, Jaquan Johnson, on Wednesday named a semifinalist for the Walter Camp national player of the year award, has been elite, and Sheldrick Redwine has exceeded expectations. Derrick Smith is coming on as a hard-hitting nickel, and Amari Carter, who is playing dime, “is doing some great things,” Diaz said, such as picking up a sack against Virginia Tech and spying Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. “We’ve shown we’re not afraid to get young guys in the game,” Diaz said, adding that as far as playing freshmen in the two-deep, “it’s probably the same thing next year.”