‘Magical’: Miami Hurricanes’ defense wallops Irish in chain wreck

Miami Hurricanes defensive back Trajan Bandy (2) wears the turnover chain in celebration of a pick six in the second quarter vs. Notre Dame. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI GARDENS — It’s not enough that the University of Miami keeps swiping the ball from opponents. It’s not enough to see the turnover chain getting passed around faster than a baton in a relay race. It’s not enough that Ed Reed is hanging around all week and letting everybody know how big-time players show up in big-time games.

No. This has to be done with a certain panache, just like the old University of Miami teams did it.

And so, by the time the deafening noise inside sold-out Hard Rock Stadium was history and the No. 7 Hurricanes had blown out No. 3 Notre Dame 41-8, all that was left was to learn how this night was even more perfect than it appeared.

By late in the first half, if there was any doubt where this thing was headed, freshman Trajan Bandy returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown and a pinch-yourself 27-0 lead. Given the final score and that it was just one of four interceptions by UM, it could have gotten lost in the shuffle.

But here’s the thing: The play was by special request from one UM coach. And it was predicted by another coach over the headsets just seconds before it occurred.

Apparently, when you’re completing your fourth consecutive game with at least four takeaways, things like this happen.

Coach Mark Richt, who calls UM’s plays, normally is on the offensive coaches’ line on his headset but happened to flip his switch to eavesdrop on the defensive guys just before the play.

Former Miami Hurricane Ed Reed on the sidelines during win over Notre Dame. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“Trajan’s going to intercept this pass,” Richt heard those coaches say.

“And lo and behold … ,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “But the credit goes to Mark, because Mark walked into our defensive staff room during the week and said, ‘Isn’t it about time you guys score on defense?’ And I told him, ‘You know how hard it is to go all this way and not score on purpose, just to save it for a big game like this?’

“So really, Mark gets the credit for reminding us to score.”

Who could blame the Hurricanes for feeling giddy? Notre Dame came in averaging 41.3 points and 324.8 rushing yards per game. It left with 109 rushing yards, averaging 3.0 per carry (well under its 7.0 average) and with 261 total yards, narrowly averting a shutout. Against an offensive line that has NFL scouts hovering every week, the Hurricanes had nine tackles for 29 yards in losses.

“I knew it was going to be magical,” said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who had five tackles. “That’s exactly what it was.”

Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson (4) celebrates after intercepting Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In the end, it was hard to decipher what was more impressive: UM’s run defense or its pass defense. The four interceptions led to 24 points.

“They were struggling blocking our guys,” Richt said.

“I think they took offense to the assertion that we would have a hard time stopping the run game,” Diaz said. “I think that’s where it all began. I think early on, that was what set the tone, making us hard to run on. It’s always a formula — make it hard to run on, force the quarterback into making mistakes, and that’s what happened.”

It’s not anything pro football fans in Baltimore didn’t get used to back when Reed and another ex-Hurricane, Ray Lewis, were running the show for the Ravens. Reed attended practice last week and delivered a speech to the team Friday night. On Saturday night, he was right there on UM’s sideline, egging on players and fans to keep this thing rolling.

“Ed Reed is standing there,” Diaz said. “How does that not make everyone want to improve their play?”

By now, the nation has figured out that as soon as UM grabs a takeaway, out comes the “turnover chain,” a gaudy, 5 1/2-pound, 10-karat gold chain that has proven to be nothing short of a stroke of genius by Diaz. The Irish began the night with those gold helmets polished to a blinding luster, but the Hurricanes still shined brightest. Jonathan Garvin, another freshman, had an interception. Jacquan Johnson, who led UM with eight tackles, grabbed one. Malek Young? Step right up and claim yours.

“I think most people see our kids are just having fun with it,” Richt said of the chain. “They’re not trying to be anything but enjoying, celebrating something. People have a different way to celebrate a turnover. We’re not the first ones to do that. We’ve just got the best one.”

Diaz, a native Miamian who grew up seeing the Hurricanes beating a lot of teams by four touchdowns, will take it.

“To me, national order is restored,” he said. “This is the way a Saturday night in Miami should be.”

[Four ways the Canes dominated]

[What players, coaches said afterward]

[Live updates, commentary from the game]

[Exclusive images from our talented photographers]

Miami Hurricanes coaches slam critics questioning cancellation of Arkansas State game

In this geocolor image GOES-16 satellite image taken Thursday, Sep. 7, 2017, at 11:15 a.m. EDT, shows the eye of Hurricane Irma, center, just north of the island of Hispaniola, with Hurricane Katia, left, in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Irma, a fearsome Category 5 storm, cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees on a track Thursday that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida. (NOAA via AP)

When it was announced Wednesday that the University of Miami’s scheduled football game on Saturday at Arkansas State was canceled due to concerns about Hurricane Irma, small-minded critics and fans quickly began to question the decision.

Why cancel the game which was to be played in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a good 1,077 miles from Coral Gables, smack dab where Irma was initially expected to make landfall on Saturday?

>>Hurricane Irma: Get the latest news and information on the storm

The danger of the storm obviously wasn’t the issue. And the powers that be at Arkansas State certainly tried their best to convince the Hurricanes to come and play, as Matt Porter pointed out:

[Miami Athletics Director Blake] James noted [Arkansas State] was “accommodating” but “frustrated and disappointed the game is not going to happen.” The 16th-ranked Hurricanes were [to be] the highest-ranked opponent the Red Wolves have hosted.

ASU AD Terry Mohajir “exhausted every effort” to get UM to visit, James said. Miami was “willing to come back” to Arkansas State in the future, James said, but given the lack of available common dates, it would likely be “a few years out.”

In a statement, Mohajir said he offered to “make additional accommodations” for Miami in its trip to Memphis (where it was scheduled to stay) and Jonesboro, and said ESPN offered to broadcast the game on Friday night if the sides agreed to move it. “Ultimately,” Mohajir said, “the Miami administration made the decision not to travel.”

No. 16 Miami canceled its game at Arkansas State, in part out of concern that the Hurricanes may get stranded away from home when Hurricane Irma strikes South Florida. “This is about what’s best for our students, coaching staff and their families,” Miami athletic director Blake James said, after telling Arkansas State about the decision that wasn’t exactly warmly received. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

So what was the issue? Was Miami scared of playing the 0-1 Red Wolves, who last year went 8-5, finished atop the Sun Belt and smacked Central Florida 31-13 in the Care Bowl? Were the Canes instead using the soon-to-hit hurricane as an excuse to rest up before heading up to Tallahassee to take on the rival Florida State Seminoles next weekend?

No, James said, it came down to the inevitable problems Miami would have in returning to South Florida after the game Saturday night or Sunday.

“We simply cannot put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in danger traveling to and from contests,” James said in a press release.

“As we have seen from the tragic impact of Hurricane Harvey — and from South Florida’s own experiences — the impacts of hurricanes can be devastating and long-lasting, and can make travel extremely difficult and dangerous.

“I want to thank all of our opponents for their cooperation and understanding. Our thoughts are with those in the path of Hurricane Irma both here in South Florida and afar.”

>>Hurricane Prep: How to prepare for the unthinkable, a Category 5 hurricane

>>Hurricane Irma: It’s lights out if Irma makes a direct hit, FPL says

But many weren’t as understanding, like former college coach and current CBS analyst Rick Neuheisel, who called the game’s cancellation “suspicious.”

AStateNation.com, an Arkansas State website, published an editorial criticizing the Hurricanes for not wanting to play Arkansas State after the Red Wolves played Nebraska tough last week.

“I am all for safety and putting life ahead of football,” wrote the columnist who goes by the moniker Arkstfan, “but it is crass to use those as an excuse to avoid playing a game you don’t want to play.

“The Hurricanes?” Arkstfan continued. “They have to defend their national ranking against a team that put Nebraska on the ropes and only receive $300,000 for it. The motivation is just transparent.”

As the speculation and rumor-mongering continued the next day, though, head coach Mark Richt felt the need to address it on Twitter:

Manny Diaz, UM defensive coordinator (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

When well-respected college football reporter Brett McMurphy tweeted Friday morning that with a bit of schedule-finagling, Miami and Arkansas State could make up the game this season, UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was compelled to respond with a dose of reality.

Is this still a thing? After two days of prepping the house and waiting hours for gas and supplies, my family each packed 2 suitcases and spent 13 hours in a car yesterday. What we left behind, we figure we won’t see again. It will just about take a miracle for there to be football in this state NEXT weekend let alone this one. The entire state right now is in the cross hairs of the strongest storm ever in the Atlantic. Ever. And we are still talking about football with all these lives in the balance? Come on man, perspective.

UM safeties coach Ephraim Banda. (David Lake/247Sports)

Safeties coach Ephraim Banda told a similarly compelling story, under the heading “Just an evacuee sitting in a Waffle House watching people involved in the football profession who have truly lost their way…”

Could Miami have played the game Saturday at Arkansas State? Yes.

Should Miami have played the game? Not a chance.

And good on the Hurricanes coaches for having the guts to stand up, explain why and bring some humility and perspective to the coverage of a sport often lacking in both.

>>Hurricane Irma: Follow the latest headlines

>>Follow The Palm Beach Post’s Kimberly Miller on Twitter, @kmillerweather, for Hurricane Irma coverage.

State of Miami Hurricanes’ QBs: ‘Definitely not a leader’ emerging yet

In this 2016 photo, Evan Shirreffs (16) sets up to pass during a drill. Malik Rosier (12) and quarterbacks coach Jon Richt are behind him. (Miami Herald)
In this 2016 photo, Evan Shirreffs (16) sets up to pass during a drill. Malik Rosier (12) and quarterbacks coach Jon Richt are behind him. (Miami Herald)

[Defense dominates again in Miami scrimmage]

[Video: Talking scrimmage No. 2, spring storylines]

[Recruiting: Top TE Jordan commits to Canes]

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The University of Miami Hurricanes enter their final spring scrimmage on Saturday still searching for someone to emerge at quarterback as junior Malik Rosier and sophomore Evan Shirreffs split first-team duties.

“There is definitely not a leader,” said Thomas Brown, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. ” … Part of it is because of them being able to retain information and knowing what to do and also being able to take command. But it is going to be a long process, like we said from Day 1. I know everybody gets antsy and wants an answer immediately. And I wish I could give you one.”

Brown said Rosier and Shirreffs are learning to be vocal, coming off a year in which “probably in the back of your mind believing I am going to be the backup to Brad (Kaaya). So it is still difficult to really go out and sell out on every single snap.”

Rosier said his most significant improvements have been in shortening his release and getting a better understanding of receivers’ responsibilities.

“Sometimes you’ll see confusion, so you have got to help them out in it,” Rosier said. “And a big thing for me is leading. Just showing the guys that when I am out there that I am the guy, that I can make every play, I can make every throw, make every read.”

Rosier was frank in his assessment of the overall performance of the QBs this spring, saying there have been times passers have unleashed an “amazing ball … and then there’s times to where we just completely busted.”

Which is what Shirreffs is focusing on.

“The main thing for me has been trying to show that I am consistent,” he said. “Everyone is going to have a bad play here and there, but you have to minimize those bad plays and come back the next play and just make up for it.”

In other items Thursday:

  • Brown said redshirt junior receiver Darrell Langham has “by far” made the biggest improvement at that position. At tight end, he praised Michael Irvin II.
  • Brown said he believes RB Mark Walton is handling inactivity this spring well. Walton this week said he didn’t like being “babied,” but Brown is OK with the situation. “You want guys who want the ball in their hands but also aren’t so selfish and go into panic mode and shut down when they don’t get the football,” Brown said. “And I think he is finding that correct balance.”
  • Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said redshirt junior DL Demetrius Jackson has shown “flashes with his potential but there is so much more to it.”

Hurricanes players excited to play ‘attacking style defense’ under Manny Diaz

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. (Instagram.com/mattyports)
Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. (Instagram.com/mattyports)

The Hurricanes defense is in the middle of a major overhaul.

Under Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio, the unit used mostly a 3-4 scheme. But Miami’s new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is introducing a totally different scheme — a blitz-heavy 4-3 setup.

Hurricanes players noticed the difference during spring practice. Continue reading “Hurricanes players excited to play ‘attacking style defense’ under Manny Diaz”

Manny Diaz named Miami Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator

Manny Diaz
Manny Diaz

New Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt hired Miami native Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator today, moving a step closer to filling out his coaching staff.

Diaz, the son of a former Miami mayor of the same name, spent the 2015 season as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator, his second stint at the school. The Bulldogs went 9-4 this season, beating North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl.

“I’ve known him for over 20 years and I’ve watched him become one of the best defensive minds in the business,” said Richt, who added Diaz will run a 4-3 scheme in 2016.

Diaz worked as Louisiana Tech’s defensive coordinator in 2014, heading a unit that led the nation in forcing turnovers. Before that, Diaz was at Texas from 2011-13, and Mississippi State in 2010 for his first stint there. He also was defensive coordinator for four seasons at Middle Tennessee State, spending time coaching linebackers and safeties at the school.

Diaz, 41, who graduated from Florida State, said the chance to coach in Miami was too good to pass up.

“We knew it would take a very unique opportunity for us to consider leaving,” Diaz said. “God blessed me with a chance to return home, to coach in my hometown and to reunite with family. It is the kind of opportunity that comes along rarely in this business.”

Richt has yet to confirm if he has made any decisions on whether to retain offensive coordinator James Coley or Larry Scott, who served as interim head coach after Al Golden was fired.