A suspension against in-state rival Florida Gators last August for Hurricanes junior cornerback DJ Ivey appeared all but insignificant for the team’s defense.
“DJ Ivey will not play tonight – he did not travel,” a UM spokesperson said at the time prior to kickoff. The Florida, City, Fla. native had violated team rules earlier that week and would be absent in the defensive backfield for the Hurricanes’ much-awaited season opener that night.
It was a contest that had slipped out of the Hurricanes’ hands in the pivotal fourth period, losing 24-20 at Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.). Many recall the missed 27-yard field goal from Miami kicker Bubba Baxa (recent Houston transfer) to have been the nail in the coffin, for what could have put them up 23-17 with just shy of ten minutes to go.
That was only a fraction of the problem. Florida’s Kadarius Toney scored a 66-yard touchdown earlier to put the Gators ahead 7-3 in the first period, stinging the ‘Canes from the get-go. The 5-foot-11-inch wide receiver broke multiple tackles from safety Amari Carter and cornerback Al Blades, Jr., while other cornerback Trajan Bandy was pinned by Gators wideout Van Jefferson.
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (current Arkansas transfer) later completed a 65-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Hammond, a pass that skied far past Bandy, for what would be an 80-yard touchdown drive. That gave the Gators a lead in the fourth period that they would never relinquish.
Those ‘Canes cornerbacks held up decently that Saturday afternoon. Blades, Jr. totaled four tackles (three solo) while Bandy tallied three (all solo), but Ivey was the missing link in the team’s defensive backfield even though some may have been unaware.
Unfortunate news that the canes defense will not be at full strength tonight . Dj Ivey is out . Next man up #canes— Brian Monroe (@B_Monroe15) August 24, 2019
The former attendee of South Dade Senior High School was a 4-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, receiving interest from a small handful of other programs including Georgia and Auburn. Not receiving a ton of spotlight, he only ranked No. 32 nationally in recruits at the cornerback position that year.
Ivey played in 11 games in 2018 mostly as a member of special teams, recording just three tackles on the year. As a true freshman he was left to learn the defense of former Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, all before ex-head coach Mark Richt abruptly resigned post-Pinstripe Bowl that December.
It appeared that Ivey would have to simply wait for veterans including senior cornerbacks Jhavonte Dean and Michael Jackson, Sr. to both graduate, while earning his coaches’ trust.
And he did just that with one unteachable belief: work ethic. Improving speed and agility and being a learner at the same time, continuously contributing to the greater part of Miami’s whole has been Ivey’s bread and butter, battling Bandy for a starting job in 2019.
Returning the following season, he showed strong signs of potential as exhibited in the stat sheet. Ivey totaled 25 tackles (22 solo) in the 12 games he did compete in having started six of them. The 6-foot-1-inch sophomore also notched three interceptions—leading the team in that department—getting his fair share of the third edition of the team’s prestigious Turnover Chain.
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That first, glamorous taste of wearing the hefty Turnover Chain came at Pittsburgh on Oct. 26. Redshirt senior linebacker Zach McCloud deflected a pass that dropped into Ivey’s hands for his first career interception.
Ivey rocking the Hurricanes bling was not the only highlight of the road game, however.
“It’s our second time where an opponent hasn’t scored [a touchdown] on us,” Ivey said. “We pride ourselves of that on defense. Making sure no one scores [touchdowns] on us is big, very big.” Miami’s reputation as a defensive danger only continued to fizz when picking up mid-season momentum, thanks to Defensive Coordinator Blake Baker’s revamped approach.
Baker led the ‘Canes to 13th nationally in yards allowed per game and sixth in sacks upon joining Hurricanes football in early 2019.
For Baker, DJ Ivey and the rest of the Miami defense, the 2020 season should resemble nothing short of what the program has been recognized for over the past number of seasons—forcing turnovers in any way, shape or form possible.
Ivey and Blades, Jr. have showcased their individual potential to bolster the defensive backfield for the team’s potential successes this fall. The two juniors could only keep climbing should they work in tandem soundly on the gridiron, and of course stay healthy should the ‘Canes see action in a New Year’s Six bowl.
The Hurricanes have been projected by some college football news sources this spring as the ACC favorite for the 2021 Orange Bowl. The next generation of cornerbacks in Ivey and Blades, Jr. was not around the last time Miami appeared in the 2017 Orange Bowl, another game that saw Miami cough up their lead and never recover.
Returning to a New Year’s Six bowl would be an exciting challenge for the program and its talented defensive backfield, a far cry from the stage of the Walk On’s Independence Bowl six months ago. It would only provide Ivey and Blades, Jr. the necessary experience on one of college football’s brightest stages before packing their bags for the NFL Draft.