The Hurricanes were down 28-21, and trying to mount another comeback against Virginia, and keep their perfect season alive. 63,415 roared to life as the Cavaliers faced a new drive from their own 25-yard-line.
Going to the air on first down, quarterback Kurt Benkert dropped back to pass. Though Benkert had intentions of keep UVA in front, Miami safety Jaquan Johnson had other plans. Johnson picked off Benkert, running back 30 yards to the house, setting The Rock on fire.
On a team, and even more so on a defense stacked to the gills with playmakers and superstars, Johnson stands alone as the leader. The returning senior is back for one more season “to play for a national championship.”
It wasn’t just the Virginia game where Johnson electrified the crowd, and lit a spark in his team.
The week before, Johnson was the first recipient of the Turnover Chain, intercepting a pass against Notre Dame. Against Virginia Tech the week before that, Johnson made SportsCenter with his one-handed pick.
Johnson returns for his fourth and final season with the Canes, after leading the team in tackles with 85, four interceptions, as well as four pass break-ups and two forced fumbles.
Since arriving as a freshman in 2015, Johnson’s impact has been constant. In 2014, Miami was ninth in the ACC in turnovers on defense. Since 2015, the Hurricanes have finished first for three consecutive seasons, and Johnson has played 37 games during that stretch.
What Johnson is able to do at the safety position reminds fans of the memories that Sean Taylor and Ed Reed created, the most famous Canes safeties of all time.
The late Taylor, along with Johnson, both had a knack for getting to the end zone. However, both Taylor and Johnson are ferocious tacklers, and made hits at key moments.
During the 2003 season in the comeback game against the Gators, Taylor made a key tackle on third-down just short of the chains with Miami down 33-18, resulting in a Florida punt, which the Canes took that drive for a touchdown, winning the game later-on.
Against Virginia Tech this past season, Johnson made a key-hit on Hokies receiver Sean Savoy that popped the ball free which Miami recovered, just as it looked like Tech was going to mount a comeback.
When it comes to Ed Reed, him and Johnson share similarities making clutch plays.
Reed created one of the great UM memories, when he (really Matt Walters) preserved a perfect 2001 season, returning a pick-six with seconds to play against Boston College.
For Johnson, big plays were a staple in 2017. However the most clutch play of the season, was the touchdown off the interception against Virginia.
Though Taylor left Miami after his junior season, Reed decided to come back for his senior year. That year, 2001, Reed recorded an incredible 9 interceptions, leading the Miami defense, and team, to its fifth national championship.
Only time will tell what Johnson’s senior-year holds, and what his legacy will be at UM.
Though, with 2017’s heart-and-soul Braxton Berrios now gone to the NFL, look for Johnson to take over that spot.