DURHAM, N.C. -- If you want to catch a glimpse of the promising future of the Miami football program, keep your eyes focused squarely on No. 8. And don’t look away for even a second or you might miss a truly stirring moment.
Duke Johnson, the 5-9 freshman running back with as much flash as flair, closed the 2012 season just as he started, with a stimulating performance to make Hurricanes fans salivate for what’s to come on the offensive side of the ball in 2013.
Johnson has already won ACC Rookie of the Week honors four times and lined himself up for another honor Saturday after rushing for a season-high 176 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries in a 52-45 victory over Duke.
Johnson also came within 53 yards of the 1,000-yard mark while passing former UM and NFL star Clinton Portis for the school’s freshman ground record.
Johnson had 135 yards in his collegiate debut against Boston College almost three months ago and left a host of Duke defenders grasping at air Saturday with his jukes and blazing speed as the Canes closed their season with a wild victory over the Blue Devils.
Johnson has never met Portis, the former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins running back. He has only seen him during warmups before the Notre Dame game. He hopes to meet him soon.
“It means a lot [to] me,” Johnson said of the freshman rushing record, which Portis set in 1999. “But it also means a lot for the team, especially the offense knowing that everything they did helped me break the record.”
Johnson’s 65-yard scoring run late in the third quarter was his 11th all-purpose play of 50 or more yards this season, which leads the nation.
“If you have a back that averages 11 yards a carry against us, you’re not going to win football games — period, end of story,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, referring to Johnson.
The only thing that went badly for Johnson on this day of 646 yards of offense for the Hurricanes (third-most in school history) was an errant jump pass on fourth-and-1 with 11:59 left that fell short of a wide-open Clive Walford in the end zone with Miami leading 45-24.
“We’ve tried that three or four times in practice and it was all on queue, but I don’t know what happened,” Johnson said. “I guess it kind of slipped, and it was a low pass.”
Over his final four games, Johnson rushed for 492 yards on just 56 carries, an eye-popping average of 8.8 yards per carry.
When asked about Johnson emerging this season as a great weapon, UM offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch just laughed and said, “Yeah, I heard.”
“I’m not really surprised by anything; it’s just instincts a lot of the time with my body moving without even thinking about it,” Johnson said of his elusive style. “But that’s something I have practiced over and over in the offseason, in high school, just certain moves to set up the defender to make him miss and then keep running.”
Coach Al Golden ran off a long list of formations after the win that he had Johnson in Saturday.
If Miami wasn’t handing the ball off to Johnson, Golden and Fisch used the running back in motion with fakes to open up the passing game yet again for Stephen Morris, who logged 369 yards through the air and didn’t throw an interception for a fourth consecutive game.