It has become a social media sensation, the topic of dozens of tweets and Facebook posts. It has inspired T-shirts, rap songs and even an imitation rocked by all-time baseball great Alex Rodriguez. The mere sight of it on the Miami sideline during games is enough to whip the Hurricane players into a frenzy.
Miami’s 8-0 start to the season hasn’t been short on storylines, but the Turnover Chain, synonymous with the swagger and free-spirited play that second-year head coach Mark Richt has injected into the program, has stolen the show.
It might also be the reason for the Hurricanes’ 8-0 record, which has them in the running to win the ACC for the first time ever and secure one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
To be clear, the Miami coaches and players certainly deserve the majority of the credit for the team’s magical start to the season. Junior quarterback Malik Rosier has stepped admirably into the shoes of departed four-year starter Brad Kaaya, throwing for 2,264 yards, 19 touchdowns and 7 interceptions through eight games. Senior receiver Braxton Berrios has had a career year, emerging as a game-changing weapon with Ahmon Richards at less than full strength. And the Hurricane defense, led by safety Jaquan Johnson and linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, has been downright frightening.
However, a look at statistics alone might suggest that its 8-0 record is somewhat of an overachievement.
Miami ranks 25th in the country in total offense, averaging 461 yards per game. The Hurricanes’ 31.5 points per game ranks 44th. They rank 42nd in total defense (367.6 yards per game allowed) and 12th in scoring defense (allowing 17.6 points per game).
Those numbers are solid, but they aren’t what you might expect from an undefeated Playoff contender. Clearly, the Hurricanes have found some other advantage over opponents — but what?
Aside from the possibility that there has been divine intervention on the part of receiver Darrell Langham, the area in which Miami has gained the biggest edge over its opponents has been turnover margin.
The Hurricanes have forced 20 takeaways in eight games this season. That rate of 1.5 turnovers forced per game ranks third in the FBS.
The offense has done its part by protecting the football, too. Miami’s turnover margin of +1.38 turnovers per game ranks fourth nationally.
Recently, Miami’s defense has not just been forcing turnovers, but forcing them at key moments. In the Hurricanes’ 28-10 win over Virginia Tech last week, three of the Hokies’ final four drives ended in turnovers. Two of those came in Miami territory.
Similarly, against North Carolina in Week 9, Miami secured a five-point win when Joe Jackson stripped North Carolina running back Jordon Brown in Hurricane territory and Miami recovered.
Now, the inevitable question: Is the Turnover Chain really the reason for the clutch takeaways?
There is no conclusive proof, of course. But, it would be difficult to watch a Miami game this season and argue that the team isn’t hungry for turnovers. In his teleconference last week, Richt said that early in the season, players were so excited when they forced a turnover that he worried about them drawing penalties for taking their helmets off while still on the field.
When the Turnover Chain comes out, the Miami sideline is mayhem.
“It’s amazing,” defensive back Michael Jackson recently told ESPN’s Andrea Adelson. “We’re like, ‘Who’s going to get the Turnover Chain this week?’ No matter what happens, no matter what time in the game, we all want that chain. I know everybody else in the country wants that thing.”
During Al Golden’s five-year tenure in Miami, the Hurricanes were generally better than average at forcing turnovers. Miami ranked in the top 50 nationally in takeaways each of Golden’s final three seasons. The Hurricanes averaged 25 takeaways per year in those three years, and 22.4 per year in Golden’s tenure.
Last season, Richt’s first at the helm, Miami actually took a step backward in forcing turnovers. The Hurricanes only forced 19 in 13 games. Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz sought a way to boost takeaways.
Enter the Turnover Chain. Through eight games this season, Miami has already surpassed last season’s takeaway total.
Even opposing coaches have admitted there seems to be something to the Turnover Chain.
“By all accounts, they do get excited about it, and it’s something they take pride in,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said prior to the Hokies’ matchup with Miami last week. “Obviously, they understand the importance of taking care of the football and taking the ball away, probably one of the biggest reasons they’re in the situation they’re in right now.”
Clearly, the turnovers have been huge. But the Turnover Chain has meant more to the Miami program than just takeaways.
This Hurricanes season has been defined by a renewed energy surrounding the program, and the Turnover Chain has been part of that.
Miami is expected to bring a top-5 recruiting class to South Florida next year. Hurricane players dance in pregame warmups, and coaches hand out bricks — the offensive line’s version of the Turnover Chain — to deserving players. Miami has not exactly been known for its home-field advantage in recent years, but following the win over Virginia Tech, players and coaches from both the Hokies and the Hurricanes raved about the crowd in Hard Rock Stadium.
Yes, winning helps, but fans seem to have embraced this team because the visible personalities of its players and coaches — and, of course, the Turnover Chain — make it fun to watch.
Richt may have summed it up best. When asked about the chain last week, Richt said: “We want to have fun. We want to enjoy life because life’s worth enjoying, and when you’re down here in this beautiful weather and this beautiful place — that’s so Miami, a Cuban-link chain like that.
“It’s a little gaudy, but hey, that’s how we roll.”
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