In My Opinion | Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Miami Hurricanes’ dynamic duo of Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson will be hard to stop

 
 
Miami Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris (17) hands off to running back Duke Johnson (8) during action against Boston College in an NCAA college football game at Alumni Stadium in Boston on Sept. 1, 2012.
Miami Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris (17) hands off to running back Duke Johnson (8) during action against Boston College in an NCAA college football game at Alumni Stadium in Boston on Sept. 1, 2012.
Elise Amendola / AP

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

Miami might lead all of American sports in dynamic duos right now, and if there was argument, I’d be happy to make our case in a debate.

Start by laying out your aces in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the double-champion Heat, of course, for reasons self-explanatory.

Then add Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton and rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez because every other team in the majors would love to have either rising star.

The Dolphins believe they have a qualifying combo in Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace, after spending a top-10 draft pick for the arm and $60million for the hands.

Now here’s the wild-card quinella: Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson of the Miami Hurricanes.

Because some college teams have a great quarterback and some have a terrific running back, but very few have both, this good, all at once.

“It’s rare,” Canes offensive coordinator James Coley had to admit Friday.

If you’re an opposing defensive coordinator how do you stop both?

“Exactly!” was Coley’s answer to my hypothetical — said with a smile.

So much about UM football has been overshadowed for so long. The NCAA investigation in the Nevin Shapiro case slogs on an inexcusable three years later, the Canes held hostage by the governing body’s internal corruption and outrageous delays.

A final ruling is seen as imminent, but nobody knows if Miami will be given proper credit for self-imposed penalties thus far with no serious added punishment — which should be the case — or if the NCAA might impose further sanctions to try to justify the time and expense of its own ponderous probe.

Meantime, coach Al Golden’s team wears the necessary blinders and chugs toward an enormously promising season, led by Morris and the “Duke of Gables.”

A great offense needs a nickname, so, combining the QB’s surname and the clamoring for Johnson to be fully unleashed, here’s my nickname for UM’s 2013 pro-style attack:

Mo’ Duke.

I look at these Canes in Golden’s third season and see a potentially great team.

Not good — great.

I see a team that can win the ACC championship and a major bowl, if the bumbling NCAA doesn’t get in the way. I see a team very capable of being the first UM squad since 2003 to finish ranked in the final top 10.

I see that because the defense looks hugely improved, but mostly because Morris and Johnson — Mo’ Duke — lead a unit that should be able to outscore most anybody.

Morris passed for 3,345 yards last year with three times as many touchdowns (21) as interceptions. Now, armed with a speedy receiving corps, he is a fully formed senior with a chance to emerge onto Heisman Trophy watch lists if UM is as good as I think.

“Extremely talented physically, a next-level guy,” Coley describes Morris. “And mentally, he sees it all now as well.”

Morris would be a bigger star nationally if not for two consecutive seasons of self-imposed bowl bans.

Johnson, just a sophomore, is poised to bust up into that wider attention after a phenomenal freshman year out of Miami Norland High.

The Duke of Gables rushed for 947 yards, a 6.8 average and 10 TDs; returned kicks for 892 yards, two scores and a 33-yard average; had 221 yards receiving and even threw for a touchdown. His 2,060 all-purpose yards (171.7 average) barely missed Willis McGahee’s 2002 school record.

It was the year a freshman, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, won the Heisman. But Miami’s Duke, with nine plays of 50 or more yards, might have been the next-most-exciting college rookie in America.

He was just getting started.

Johnson is only 5-9 but his speed, ability to change direction and balance make his stature irrelevant. Coley, UM’s first-year offensive chief, mentions that balance first.

“It looks like you could throw him up in the air, have him do somersaults and he’d land on his feet,” Coley said.

UM budgeted Johnson to 11.6 carries per game last year. That is to double. “Twenty to 25,” said Coley.

“I’m looking forward to a bigger role,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Morris, as a senior, looks forward to a defining role.

“I’m trying to have an important season,” he said.

The physical skills and mental side of the game are all in his command now. The leadership end of it he has worked hard to bring on board. It is now.

“It was hard for me the first couple of years, even talking in front of team meetings,” he admitted. “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Morris is comfortable now.

Funny how having Duke Johnson to hand off to can have that effect on a quarterback.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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