University of Miami

‘Everybody eats’ on Miami Hurricanes defense, Manny Diaz says. The numbers agree

University of Miami coach Mark Richt on tonight’s win

University of Miami coach Mark Richt speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.
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University of Miami coach Mark Richt speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.

After the Miami Hurricanes’ 24-3 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz began to list off some of his players who made valuable contributions to the team’s success this year.

And then he kept going. And going.

It’s hard to single anyone out on a group as deep and talented as this defense.

“Everybody eats,” Diaz said, “and I think that’s the neatest thing about it, and they know it’s not about just one guy. It’s about everybody doing their job and there’s plays to be made for everybody.”

That was the case again in Miami’s regular-season finale, one in which UM gave up just 200 yards and three points to a Pitt team that had averaged more than 500 yards and almost 41 points over its last four games.

“We’re the best defense in the country,” cornerback Michael Jackson. “Check the stats.”

We did. Here’s where the Hurricanes stand in some of the top categories.

The Hurricanes lead the nation with 126 tackles for loss, averaging 10.5 per game. UM tied a season-high with 14 tackles for loss against Pittsburgh on Saturday, a mark it hit twice before this season against Savannah State and North Carolina. Twelve players recorded at least a half-tackle for loss against the Panthers, with Joe Jackson’s 2.5 tackles for loss leading the way.

If Miami records at least four tackles for loss in its bowl game, it will be just the second team this decade to average double-digit tackles for loss at the end of a season (Clemson averaged 10.08 in 2014).

Miami is holding opponents to a nation-low 23.7-percent conversion rate on third-down, which is putting the Hurricanes on pace to be the second team this decade to finish with a third-down conversion rate allowed under 24 percent (Michigan, 2016, 21.02 percent). The Hurricanes held Pittsburgh to a 1-for-15 conversion rate on Saturday and has only allowed one team all season to convert more than one third of its third-down attempts (Georgia Tech, 56.25 percent).

The Hurricanes rank second nationally in yards per play allowed (4.16) and overall yards per game (268.3). Miami has finished in the top-12 in this category in yards per play allowed all three seasons under Diaz.

Opponents have scored touchdowns on just 15 of their 33 red-zone opportunities, a 45.45-percent success rates that ranks eighth nationally and third in the ACC behind Clemson and North Carolina State.

The Hurricanes also rank in the top 15 nationally in sacks (37, T-8th), total turnovers forced (24, T-12th) and interceptions (15, T-14th).

“We’re 7-5,” Michael Jackson said, “but we’re not a 7-5 defense.”

And it’s not just one or two key players dominating the stat sheet, either.

The Hurricanes are the only team in the country that has four players with at least 13 tackles for loss each this season. Defensive tackle Gerald Willis leads the team with 18, a mark that ranks tied for 13th nationally and leads the ACC. Defensive ends Jon Garvin (16, T-21st nationally) and Joe Jackson (14.5, T-39th nationally) and linebacker Shaq Quarterman (13, T-64th nationally) follow Willis.

For a second consecutive year, Miami has three players with at least five sacks each: Jackson (9), Quarterman (6) and Garvin (5.5). Jackson could become the Hurricanes’ first player with double-digit sacks since Calais Campbell (10.5) and Kareem Brown (11) both reached the milestone in the 2006 season.

A dozen players have recorded at least one turnover this season, with sophomore defensive back Trajan Bandy leading the way with five (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries). Senior defensive back Sheldrick Redwine is close behind with four (three interceptions, one fumble recovery).

Four players have had at least one game with double-digit tackles: Safety Jaquan Johnson (5, 11 vs. LSU; 10 vs. Florida State; 12 vs. Virginia; 10 vs. Boston College; 10 vs. Pittsburgh), Quarterman (11 vs. Duke), linebacker Michael Pinckney (2, 12 vs. Virginia; 10 vs. Boston College) and Redwine (14 vs. Boston College).

“All of us as a coaching staff, we’re just so thankful to be able to coach these guys,” Diaz said. “This is a special unit, this is something that does not come around very often. This is a unit that should be appreciated for years to come. At this school, that’s hard. There have been some amazing defenses that have come and gone through here, but these guys deserve to be looked at with some of their peers. We have our part in our record not being what it should be, but these guys have put something on tape over a 12-game season that they can be proud of for the rest of their lives.”

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