Miami Hurricanes Look To Secure ACC Championship Versus Clemson, Keep National Title Hopes Alive

By  //  December 1, 2017

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Kickoff: Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC In Charlotte, NC

ABOVE VIDEO: Miami vs. Clemson – ACC Championship Trailer

CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA (HurricaneSports.com) – Everyone knows about the turnover chain.

Miami’s 5.5-pound Cuban link gold chain with a giant U covered in orange and green sapphires has been the talk of the 2017 college football season. But it’s the playmaking Hurricanes defense that made the turnover chain sensation possible.

The No. 7 Canes (10-1, 7-1 ACC) lead the nation in turnover margin (+1.55 per game) and team sacks (3.55 per game), while ranking second in the country in team tackles for loss (8.6 per game) and third in turnovers gained (29).

Miami is also ranked in the top 15 in fumbles recovered (ninth, 12), passes intercepted (seventh, 17), scoring defense (15th, 18.3 per game) and team passing efficiency defense (11th, 109.01), proving that they are an outstanding defense for the second straight season under defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“He brings a fire out of all of us,” Quarterman said of Diaz.

“He knows what to say to get everybody going. It’s not always a speech. Sometimes it takes him really challenging you to better yourself as a player, look within yourself, deny your bad habits, really fight to be a better player overall. He does a great job at it.”

Beyond Diaz’s ability to connect with his players, he also has gained their trust by continually preparing them to be their best.

“As far as putting us in the right position to make plays, he does that to a T,” Quarterman said. “Whenever we execute, they don’t really understand that he really does a great job, him and the defensive staff, of crafting these schemes together for us to go out and really execute and do our jobs. He does it all. I mean, the X’s and O’s to digging into a player when he has to, but also loving the player up, pushing them, to encourage them to go farther, he does it all.”

A Broyles Award semifinalist, Diaz has proven himself to be one of the top defensive coordinators in the country. But that is just one reason why the Hurricanes have been successful on defense.

The Canes are supremely talented and young on defense, with eight players earning All-ACC recognition. Despite all the success on the defensive side of the ball, no Hurricanes were selected to the All-ACC First Team.

“Defensively, we look at the whole thing and what we brought to the table and how we changed the game with the turnovers and our kids laying it on the line every week to help us win and be a team that won 10 games, it was a little tough to swallow,” Miami cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph told The Joe Rose Show.

Junior defensive lineman RJ McIntosh, sophomore linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, junior cornerback Michael Jackson and junior safety Jaquan Johnson were all named to the All-ACC Second Team, while senior defensive lineman Trent Harris garnered All-ACC Third Team honors.

Senior Defensive Lineman Trent Harris salutes crowd against Virginia. (Miami Hurricanes Image)

Add in junior defensive lineman Kendrick Norton, sophomore linebacker Michael Pinckney and sophomore cornerback Malek Young, who were All-ACC honorable mention selections, and Miami had eight defensive players earn All-ACC recognition.

Of the eight players recognized, only Harris will have exhausted his eligibility by the time the 2018 season begins. Miami also loses just one starter on defense to graduation, defensive lineman Chad Thomas, and has junior safety Sheldrick Redwine, sophomore defensive lineman Joe Jackson and sophomore linebacker Zach McCloud all with eligibility remaining.

But there is no reason to look too far ahead with such an important game looming this weekend. Miami will face No. 1 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday at 8 p.m., and that is all the Hurricanes are thinking about.

“Those guys do a great job of executing their offense,” Johnson said. “The receivers are very well-coached. They know how to get off jams. They run precise routes. We’re going to just have to compete. We’re going to have to go out there and counter those guys. If they beat us, they beat us. But we’re going to compete and we’re going to be in their faces. We’re ready for the challenge, I believe.”

The Hurricanes enter the game against Clemson fresh off a disappointing loss in the regular season finale at Pitt. But Miami is not dwelling on the past. The Canes are focused on a marquee matchup against the nation’s top-ranked team.

“Great game coming up, big game coming up,” Quarterman said. “This is the game that we love to play in; this is what college football is all about”.

Miami has played its best football in its biggest games this season, beating then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, 28-10, and hammering then-No. 3 Notre Dame, 41-8. The Canes responded to those challenges and will look to do the same this weekend against Clemson.

“It feels good to have our backs against the wall and I feel like we play better that way,” Rumph said.

“That’s been the history of the Hurricanes and the way this city is. We like people to doubt us and say we can’t do things. It makes us go in there and work a little harder.”

Johnson believes Miami steps up its game every week, but understands that their performances are magnified against the biggest opponents. The junior safety expects another all-out effort by the team wearing orange and green on Saturday.

“I just think we always play with a chip [on our shoulder], we always play hard football,” Johnson said. “Everything else that comes with it, the winning, all the awards and stuff like that, we don’t even look into that, we just focus on trying to win every game.”

The Hurricanes have been working hard to prepare for their ACC Championship Game opponent, especially since they are the defending national champions and a team that just two seasons ago defeated Miami, 58-0. But Johnson sees a very different Miami team preparing this week than he did two years ago as a freshman,

“The transformation is quite simple. It’s night and day,” Johnson said. “You could tell by the coaching staff that we have. I had a different coaching staff my freshman year to now my junior year. I believe our standard, we are holding ourselves to a higher standard. We’re playing the Miami way, so, that’s the biggest transformation I see.”

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Johnson credits the transformation to the program’s biggest leader, head coach Mark Richt and his approach to how things should be done as a Miami Hurricane.

“Coach Richt brought a winning attitude to Miami,” Johnson said. “I believe that he truly brought the swagger back, which was showing us that if you work hard and you’re consistent and you execute, that you’re going to win games.”

Even with a 10-win season, a talented roster and a winning attitude, the Hurricanes are not taking anything for granted. In advance of their biggest game of the year, Miami is focused on preparing for their toughest task, beating the defending ACC and national champions.

“They are a very good team,” Quarterman said. “They have been good, consistently good, they have a good quarterback, there are good players and they are very efficient with what they do. They are just, all-around, a solid football team. I can’t wait to play them.”

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