Duke Johnson to the rescue.
The Miami freshman running back scored four impressive touchdowns Saturday in the Hurricanes’ home opener to lead UM to a 38-10 victory over Bethune-Cookman. Johnson became the first Hurricane to score four touchdowns in a game since Tyrone Moss did it in 2005 against North Carolina.
Let us count the ways:
• A 95-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
• A 1-yard, head-first plunge in the second quarter.
• A 50-yard catch on a screen play in the third quarter.
• A 28-yard run going left, then cutting right in the fourth quarter.
Without Johnson, one could only imagine. He rushed 14 times for 94 yards. He caught three passes for 57 yards. And he had the one brilliant return for 95 yards for a total of 246 all-purpose yards.
Johnson’s 638 all-purpose yards through three games puts him on pace for 2,552 yards in 12 games. The single-season, all-purpose mark at Miami is 2,102 by Willis McGahee.
“He has a standard of excellence and an approach that is really something for a lot of guys to emulate,” said UM coach Al Golden, whose Hurricanes improved to 2-1. “From Day 1, he’s not really silly, he listens, he studies, he watches film, he prepares. He doesn’t make a lot of mental errors. A lot of freshmen make mental errors. And he finishes plays hard.
“You guys can see it on the sideline, even when he’s getting close to the end of the run, there’s no step out of bounds. He’s trying to finish, and he’s trying to make a statement when he does that. Hopefully, we can start to do that at every position.”
Johnson was told after the game that he has four touchdowns of 50 yards or more this season, and coupled with the three-pronged scoring attack he launched Saturday, was asked, “Does that blow your mind a little bit?”
“Not really,” he answered sheepishly. “No.”
“Not even a little?”
He said he is “always humble” but had “missed opportunities” in the loss at Kansas State.
“I could have made plays for my team,” he said, indicating that this game balanced the ledger.
“He’s amazing,” said offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, who played both sides Saturday. “I love blocking for him. It makes you want to block harder because you know he’s going to give you 5 to 10 yards on each play — whether run or catch. He’s that good.”
Fellow tailback Mike James also had a strong day, rushing for 79 yards on nine carries in taking some of the workload off Johnson.
UM quarterback Stephen Morris was not nearly as sharp in front of an announced Sun Life Stadium crowd of 39,435 that seemed much smaller.
Morris completed 20 of 35 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. He threw several errant passes and overthrew receivers.
Golden called Morris’ performance “spotty.”
“I’m just being honest,” the coach said of Morris, who was not sacked after being sacked five times last week. “The ball sailed on him a couple times, which is unlike him. He just needs to relax. … And he will. He’ll get better.”
Better on defense
Defensively, the Canes did improve, Golden said — even if they were playing against a Football Championship Subdivision team. They had three sacks, two by freshman Tyriq McCord. Anthony Chickillo had a fumble recovery, Dallas Crawford had an interception and there were five pass breakups.
Bethune gained 355 yards — 233 rushing.
“It was much better, and we were dealing with some nicks during the game,” Golden said. “It’s not perfect, but guys were fighting, and they were flying around. We had a veteran team a year ago, and we didn’t keep them out of the end zone like we did [Saturday].”
The “nicks” were plentiful, with several players being treated for apparent injuries on the sideline.
But by far the most worrisome situation appears to be an ankle injury sustained by star middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who was on crutches with a boot on his right foot.
Other players who were treated: defensive back Andrew Swasey; defensive end Shayon Green; linebacker Tyrone Cornileus; safety Deon Bush; receiver Kendal Thompkins; snapper Sean McNally, and linebacker Thurston Armbrister.
Bush, Green and Cornileus returned to the game.
The Canes travel to Atlanta next Saturday to face the option attack of Georgia Tech.