Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to play in football. Offenses are always finding new ways to spread the ball around, pass-catchers are freakishly athletic, and with the physicality of the game changing each season, it truly takes elite skill and mental toughness to play corner at a high level. Miami continues to search for a corner who can lock things down and continue the legacy of Canes of the past. After the departure of Trajan Bandy heading into the 2020 season, the cornerbacks faced several questions of skill-set and depth. Those alarm bells only became louder after 4-star CB Christian Williams entered the transfer portal after the season opener. The Canes were left with Al Blades Jr., DJ Ivey, Te’Cory Couch, Marcus Clarke, and Isaiah Dunson as the only scholarship corners on the roster.
The unit battled but you couldn’t help but feel there were several moments this season where we were just a head turn, a play on the ball, and missed tackles away from stopping huge plays in key games. Cornerback remains less of question mark heading into the 2021 season but, let’s have a look at the 2020 resume these players put together and what new coaches Travaris Robinson (defensive backs coach) and Demarcus Van Dyke (cornerbacks coach) are inheriting.
Al Blades, Jr.
The junior Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native made seven starts in the regular season. His season was unfortunately cut short due to a myocarditis diagnosis. Blades Jr. finished with 29 total tackles, 2 interceptions, and a team-leading 7 PBU. Blades Jr. became the first Cane to rock the Turnover Chain this season after his interception in the primetime matchup against the Louisville Cardinals. His second interception of the season came in the 52-10 destruction of the Florida State Seminoles. His last game of the season came in a 25-24 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies. Blades Jr. had two solo tackles in that matchup. He brings a true warrior-like mentality to the cornerback group. When he can make his return to the unit, a boost in consistency needs to be a priority for the talented corner.
Junior cornerback DJ Ivey started all eleven games for the Hurricanes in 2020. He finished the season with 36 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 pass break ups. The solo interception came in the come-from-behind 44-41 win against the NC State Wolfpack. Another signature moment for Ivey was a 48-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown against the Clemson Tigers, which made the score 21-10. The scoop and score was Miami’s first blocked FG return since Ladarius Gunter’s 67-yard return against the UNC Tarheels in 2013. Ivey really struggled at the line, finding the ball, and remaining in-phase with WRs last season. A strong camp and offseason is the difference between him providing good depth on the field instead of on the bench.
The feistiest of the bunch, sophomore cornerback Te’Cory Couch played in every game in the 2020 season, including starting in the final four games. He finished his 2020 campaign with 37 total tackles, 1 interception, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 6 PBUs. He started the season off on a high note by creating the forced fumble in the third quarter against the UAB Blazers. His best performance of the season came in his first career start against Virginia Tech. Couch finished the night with 5 tackles and 1 INT. Another career-high night came in the 2020 Cheez-It Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. He posted 10 tackles and two PBUs in the 37-34 loss. Couch’s progression and development this season was one of the bright spots in the secondary. He’s quick, really good at the line of scrimmage, and showed off his ball skills in several matchups this year.
Marcus Clarke & Isaiah Dunson
Both Marcus Clarke and Isaiah Dunson gained valuable experience in their first year. Clarke finished with 5 tackles and he had his first career interception in the 48-0 shutout against the Duke Blue Devils. Dunson finished with 6 total tackles last season and was utilized on special teams throughout the season.
It’s safe to say that, no matter what your projection was coming into the season for this unit, they underperformed. There were times, even beyond the blowout losses to UNC and Clemson, that the cornerbacks looked lost, confused, and were outmatched. Getting beat is always going to happen, but once Blades Jr. was lost due to injury, Couch became the only player to show marked improvement with the bump in playing time. Miami was ranked 65 in passing yards allowed, 59 in defensive passing yard efficiency, the corners had 5 interceptions as a unit, and 113 tackles combined. Going into 2021, Miami has already invested in and added talent to the position group. Miami signed three-star Fort Myers Bishop Verot cornerback Malik Curtis, who has good speed and ball skills. The Canes also added former four-star defensive back Tyrique Stevenson. The Canes will head into 2021 hoping T-Rob can work his development magic and get this group ready for a showdown with the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide.