In the 2018 regular season, the Miami Hurricanes were one of the top defenses in college football. Allowing just 268 yards and 18 points per game, the Hurricanes ranked in the top five for a majority of major statistical categories. While all parts of the defense played a role in the elite Miami Hurricanes defense, a huge impact was done by the cornerbacks.
With a starting cornerback depth chart of senior Michael Jackson, Trajan Bandy, Jhavonte Dean and DJ Ivey, the Miami Hurricanes defense allowed a nation-leading 140.8 passing yards per game and 15 interceptions the game. The passing defense helped the Hurricanes defense rank 11th in defensive S&P+.
Despite all the praise that can be given to the room, at one point it wasn’t as rosy. Going into the season, the Hurricanes were tasked with a harsh reality: replacing Malek Young, who was forced to retire early with a major neck injury. While the loss of Young - who finished 2017 with seven pass breakups and two interceptions - was felt, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and cornerback coach Mark Rumph were able to replace Young with a new breakout star and the production of a returning star.
The primary leader of the defense was sophomore Trajan Bandy, whose ability earned Bandy All-ACC third-team honors. Throughout the season, Bandy showed elite shut down abilities and ball skills, intercepting opposing quarterbacks a total of three times. Even against some of the best college football wide receivers, Manny Diaz was able to set Bandy against them and forget. The breakout season for Bandy is a positive going into next season as the Hurricanes defense will lose the talents of Michael Jackson to the NFL Draft.
The aforementioned Jackson was just as talented as Bandy and proved to be a perfect complement to Bandy’s breakout season. Over the course of the season, Jackson earned six pass breakups and finished the season with 42 total tackles and 2.5 sacks, giving Jackson an All-ACC honorable mention spot. His 6’1” frame proved to be beneficial to Manny Diaz’s defense because of his ability to cover lengthier wide receivers that would usually overpower someone like Bandy, who stands in at a small 5’9” frame. Jackson has since begun preparing for the NFL Draft, where his talents earned him an invite to the Shrine Game in Tampa.
Outside of the two boundary corners, the Hurricanes had struggles from most of the backups due to the primary backups being true freshmen, who were forced to adjust to the pace of the college game on the fly.
Jhavontae Dean, a senior from South Dade, was the primary third corner for the Hurricanes. The former JUCO transfer saw action in all 13 games and tied with Trajan Bandy for interceptions with three. However, Dean struggled late in the season, especially in the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin. Against the Badgers, for example, Dean was responsible for the Badgers first touchdown after being beat clean off the line of the scrimmage. Despite his struggles, Dean’s presence was still a positive for the Hurricanes as the team was not forced to give massive defensive minutes to true freshmen. Dean’s next chapter will be preparing for the NFL Draft after signing with an agent.
Deeper down on the depth chart, the Hurricanes were filled to the brim with youth that will look to make future impacts with Dean and Jackson graduating. Among those was true freshman Al Blades Jr., the son of the late Al Blades. Blades Jr. saw 13 games, primary in special teams. Twice throughout the season, Blades was a special teams captain and likely earned himself more playing time next season on the defensive side of the game. Similar to Blades Jr., South Dade alumnus DJ Ivey played in 11 games for the Miami Hurricanes. With a majority of the action coming on special teams, Ivey finished the season with just three total tackles but likely earned himself extra playing time next season.