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100 Greatest Plays in Miami History: #85 - Jaquan Johnson’s Pick-Six Against UVA in 2017

Miami’s franchise player provided the equalizer in spectacular fashion

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

As much as the Hurricanes had a flair for the dramatic in the 2017 season, it also means that the team had a tendency for slow starts. On November 18, squaring off against ACC Coastal mates, the University of Virginia, Miami fell behind on Senior Day at Hard Rock Stadium.

However, Miami appeared to be making a charge to tie the game coming out of halftime. The Hurricanes answered back after a Cavaliers QB Kurt Benkert threw his fourth touchdown of the afternoon, driving down field and having QB Malik Rosier connect with WR Lawrence Cager to narrow the score to 28-21. Benkert and the Cavalier’s offense returned to the field having torched Miami’s defense for much of the first half.

After a touchback on the kickoff, Virginia’s offense returned to the field. Lined up in shotgun formation, Benkert had good vision of the UM’s entire defense pre-snap. Somehow, Benkert didn’t notice that HB Olamide Zaccheus had a favorable matchup toward his left with Miami’s cornerback 11 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Instead, the Cavalier QB looks in the direction of WR Doni Dowling on the right side of the formation. After the ball is snapped, the Hurricanes blitz with seven players rushing through the line of scrimmage to get the ball. Fortunately for Benkert, both his tight end and running backs are able to pick up a defender, providing time for him to make the throw. The downside to having seven players in protection is that there are only two receiving options downfield for the team. Benkert opts to throw the ball to Dowling, who was being shadowed by Miami CB Michael Jackson, Sr. over the top. Dowling appears to run a curl, waiting for the pass to reach his hands.

However, it was the hands of Jaquan Johnson that were the notable beneficiaries of an ill-advised throw. The junior safety kept his vision on Benkert’s eye since the beginning of the snap. Noticing that there was just a single option downfield for the QB to target, Johnson hauled tail to undercut the pass, which nabbed out of the air just as he eclipsed Dowling in pursuit of the ball.

What followed was a 30-yard stroll into the end zone without a single Cavalier able to lay a hand on Johnson as he crossed the goal line. The score served as an equalizer for the Hurricanes, and otherwise halted the momentum of Virginia on the same play. Following that drive, the Cavaliers were unable to move the ball against the ’Canes defense with any success. The Hurricanes were able to hold UVA to 40 total yards for the remainder of the game on their way to a 44-28 rout in their home finale.

The highlight of any interception is basking in the limelight with the Turnover Chain around your neck. That’s no different here for Jaquan Johnson after his pick six provided a motivational push to level the score with the Cavaliers. On a day where some questioned whether Miami had enough heart to extend their undefeated record to nine games, it’s fitting that a player who was described as the heart of the program would serve as the defibrillator when the team needed him most.