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How Miami’s defense kept the Turnover Chain in the spotlight against Notre Dame

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This defense is opportunistic, but it’s also just plain good.

The Miami Hurricanes mollywhopped Notre Dame, 41-8, as the Irish never got up off the mat.

Much like the national championship game against Alabama the last time the Irish ventured to South Florida, ND seemed like it didn’t have a chance. But while Bama steamrolled like a machine, the Canes did it with a flamboyant nature. The U threw a party rivaling the most lit nights at Liv or The Clevelander.

It’s hard not to get lost in the narrative sometimes.

You can’t script it, but The U’s turnover chain — the flashiest and most Miami of sideline props — has fueled perhaps the nation’s most opportunistic defense.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

And the Cuban Links crafted by AJ the Jeweler at the behest of former Canes player Vince Wilfork is everything.

The Canes are second in the nation in turnover margin per game and total turnover margin. Only three teams have more total takeaways, and only two have more total interceptions. In the biggest game they’ve played, they flashed the turnover chain four times for the fourth game in a row.

But it’s more than magic. It’s defensive prowess, combined with an offense digging its own grave.

The margin between chain and no chain is razor thin.

On the second play of the game, Canes fans almost blew the canopy roof off Hard Rock Stadium as two defenders dove for this tipped pass.


Same thing a few plays later on this drive, as DB Trajan Banding came this close.


1. They would have their chance to go ballistic.

On the next tip drill, team captain Jaquan Johnson wouldn’t let the opportunity slip through his fingers.


That’s not advanced defensive scheme or a bamboozling blitz. It’s most likely a completion, if the throw doesn’t sail on Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush.

Remember when you were a kid playing catch and you knew a throw was going high? You did that thing where you use your body to try to talk the ball into staying down. You can see Wimbush doing that little one-legged hop motion after he uncorks the throw with an unbalanced base. The ball didn’t listen, and the chain came out for the first time.


2. Miami let the first-year starting QB continue to dig Notre Dame’s grave.

This isn’t press coverage, and this isn’t a blitz either. Again, it’s probably a completion if it doesn’t sail. But it does.


The ball comes out as a duck, and it might as well have been thrown with DB Malek Young as its intended receiver.


Chain sighting No. 2.


3. Wimbush was yanked from the game, and things got worse.

Sophomore QB Ian Book was inserted late in the first half. He threw a touchdown — to Miami.

While defensive coordinator Manny Diaz might not be able to directly scheme up a turnover, he can put players in the right position, empowering defenders to use their own instincts.


This is about as vanilla of a zone defense as you can play. It also follows Book nearly throwing a pick on a jump ball the play before.

Miami rushes three and drops the rest of its players on third down. The coverage is relatively soft, with no safeties rolling or disguises. But this is how a defender makes something happen within the confines of the scheme. Trajan Bandy sinks and just waits for Book to make a decision. Then Bandy makes one of his own.


Bandy’s primarily responsibility is probably carrying the No. 2 receiver (second from the top). But the whole time, he’s reading Book’s eyes. Miami’s defense looked like it was conceding this throw to Book. Then Bandy took it away at the last second.

Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, then get the big-time chain.


4. And on the final turnover, the big guys get in on the fun.

The left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line will be coming to Sunday afternoons near you quite soon. Left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson are legitimate NFL prospects.

Miami uses a stunt to attack them directly.


Defensive tackle Jonathan Garvin rushes to the outside while linebacker Shaquille Quarterman comes inside from the second level.

Sometimes you’ll see a guard make the mistake here and invite the linebacker to waltz in untouched through his gap. But McGlinchy and Nelson pick up the stunt well, as far as assignments go. Garvin’s athleticism beats McGlinchey around the edge and earns the DL the chain.


Beyond all the fun, turnovers aren’t enough to base a defensive performance on.

Entering the game against Notre Dame, Miami had a plus-4.32 in turnover luck, per their S&P+ stat page. In those advanced metrics, the Canes were 29th in expected turnover margin, which is calculated like this:

What a team’s turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games, and if the INTs-to-PDs for both teams was equal to the national average, which is generally around 21-22 percent. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles, dropped interceptions, or other lucky/unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team’s luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

Using the metrics, Miami performed at plus-2.2 their expected turnover margin last night, continuing with the theme that the team is very opportunistic.

Turnovers are dessert.

The meat and potatoes of the D come first, and the Canes have those too.

Notre Dame ran 63 plays at a 4.3 yards-per-play clip. They smothered elite running back Josh Adams, holding him to 40 yards on 16 carries.

Miami’s getting the job done and using the turnovers as icing on the cake. They’re also helping their offense with turnovers on the plus side of the field.

The numbers say that the turnovers aren’t sustainable, but nobody’s worried about numbers when there’s partying on the sideline.

There will be a game where the Canes don’t get to flash the chain this often, and that’s fine. Until that day, The U will keep flashing that chain and beating all comers with bling.

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