Back Miami’s Pass D Has Its Swagger Back

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Miami’s Pass D Has Its Swagger Back

By Jim Johnson
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From Bennie Blades to Ed Reed, all of Miami’s legendary championship teams had wild swagger, the likes of which have never been duplicated.

Miami is, inarguably, the coolest college football program of all time.

Rather than settle for a silly ‘M’ on its helmet, Miami took the ‘U’, as in University of Miami. As in the same ‘U’ that basically every school has in its name. It works, though. If anyone else tried to do it, it would be like Dustin trying to rock the Steve Harrington hair. He’s just not cool enough. Those schools just aren’t Miami.

From Bennie Blades to Ed Reed, all of Miami’s legendary championship teams had wild swagger, the likes of which have never been duplicated.

Mark Richt, at ACC Media Days, told Southern Pigskin, “"All the things people call swagger from back in the day, if they were 5-5 and those guys were doing what they were doing nobody would've cared, but if you are winning national championships and kicking people's butts all over the nation then whatever you do becomes swagger. Those guys earned the right to have swagger because they won, not because of anything else in my opinion."

Richt’s right -- the dancing and spicy talk and turnover chain are all ancillary to piling up W’s.

The ‘Canes are still in pursuit of their first ring since 2001, but they’re legitimate contenders again, they’re unbeaten, and they’ve got their swagger back.

For that, they can, in large part, thank their pass defense, and the secondary in particular.

That said, the pass rush deserves some of the credit.

R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton aren’t really assets as far as consistently getting after the quarterback, but they have two sacks each. Meanwhile, in a reserve capacity, Anthony Moten has recorded a pressure on over 7% of his pass rushes. He had been in the top five amongst ACC interior defenders, prior to facing Virginia Tech.

On the edge, however, the full cast of contributors is pulling its weight. Trent Harris leads the team with four sacks. Demetrius Jackson and Joe Jackson both have 3.5 sacks of their own. Chad Thomas has added another three on top of that, but is actually second on the team in pressure rate. He only trails Harris, in that respect, but both are in the top six in the conference amongst edge rushers.

It truly is the defensive backfield that makes this team, though. Young, brash, loud, and talented, the group harkens back to a time when Miami’s talent was unmatched and made sure you knew it.

After transferring from The Citadel in the offseason, Dee Delaney, the lone senior in the group, has missed the last two games, but was looking great before that. He started the season slowly, perhaps still adjusting to the FBS game, but progressively developed into one of the better corners in the league, prior to his injury.

Conversely, sophomore Malek Young set the world on fire through the first five weeks of the season, allowing a passer rating of 0.0 (not a typo), albeit in a lesser role. He saw an increased workload as a result of his efforts and came back to earth a little bit, whilst remaining amongst the best handful of guys in the conference. He’s still averaging one pass defensed per game, putting him 13th in the ACC.

Young has been revelatory, as has junior Michael Jackson. The latter has allowed just 13 receptions on 31 throws into his coverage, with four interceptions, for an allowed passer rating of 29.6. Only Virginia Tech’s Greg Stroman has been better in that regard. His four interceptions are also second in the conference, and his 1.13 passes defensed per game put him eighth.

The fourth cornerback, true freshman Trajan Bandy, has had to step up in Delaney’s stead and has done an admirable job. He’s still waiting on his turn to don the turnover chain, but has recorded three pass breakups.

Jackson, Bandy, and Young are all in the top 20 amongst power five cornerbacks in allowed passer rating, as well.

At safety, junior Sheldrick Redwine, a converted cornerback, has been putting his experience in coverage to good use. He’s stepped into the slot on 128 passing snaps, allowing 13 catches on 23 throws into his coverage, with no touchdowns allowed and an interception, for an opposing passer rating of 61.1, good for third amongst ACC defensive backs, from the slot. He also added a second interception from a more traditional safety role.

Opposite Redwine, fellow junior Jaquan Johnson has been making his case as the most pleasant surprise in the secondary, despite pretty stiff competition. One of the most sure tackling players in the country, he has played 302 passing snaps and missed just one tackle. Only one player in America has played as many snaps without missing a tackle. To top it off, he’s compiled a couple of interceptions and three pass breakups to go along.

Factoring in the depth and versatility, Alabama still probably has the best secondary, and Washington’s numbers are off the charts, but beyond that Miami has as good an argument as anyone in college football.

As a unit, the Hurricanes are allowing 5.5 yards per attempt, and a 98.34 opposing passer rating, while picking off 1.63 interceptions per game, and sacking opposing quarterbacks 3.5 times per game, all of which are in the top five nationally. Miami is the only team in the country in the top five of all four of those statistical measure and only Michigan is up there in three of the four.

So, while based only on the secondaries, Alabama and Washington may be ahead of Miami, as an entire pass defense, no one is on par ‘The U’.

Miami’s defensive backs never really stopped talking smack, even in the down years. The difference, now, is that the team is winning. Mark Richt was right in that success is what defines the difference between acting foolish and having swagger. They don’t just dance anymore, they make money moves.

Lots of other successful teams, though, these days, give out some sort of adornment after turnovers. Lots of great cornerbacks talk trash. Lots of elite safeties dance after big plays. For one reason or another, Miami’s just look cooler when they do it.

Only time will tell if ‘The U’ is back back, but they're headed in the right direction, and that is, first and foremost, due to the swaggiest, most wild litty, dope-boy-fresh-to-death, turnover chain rocking pass defense in the world residing in the 305.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP