Duke Johnson sat in a wheelchair Saturday night, coaching up his teammates from the sideline with his right leg in a cast and his heart on the field.
“Duke wanted us to stay focused, even at the end of the game when things were getting kind of ugly,” lamented freshman Gus Edwards on Miami’s lack of a running game in the Hurricanes’ 42-24 loss to Virginia Tech. “He kept telling us to keep playing.”
With Virginia Tech’s nationally heralded defense stacking the box, the No. 24 Hurricanes (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) might have struggled with their ground game even if Johnson hadn’t broken his ankle the week before at Florida State.
But they will never know.
Miami netted a season-low 28 rushing yards, 48 yards lost in part because of three sacks.
The last time UM ran for fewer yards? At Wake Forest on Oct. 31, 2009, a 26-yard effort that ended with a 28-27 Hurricanes victory.
“We got out-executed,” tailback Dallas Crawford said Monday. “We have to figure out what the problem is and how we can fix it.”
Crawford finished with 37 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. His career-long 35-yard carry in the third quarter led to a 49-yard field goal. But Crawford rushed for negative yardage three times and never got more than 3 yards on any other rushes.
“Give credit to Virginia Tech,” UM running backs coach Hurlie Brown said. “They came in with a good game plan and took away some things we thought we were going to be able to get. … The outcome doesn’t show how hard the kids fought.”
UM coach Al Golden acknowledged how important it will be to get the running game going again Saturday at Duke (7-2, 3-2). But he echoed his backs’ frustration.
“Obviously, you’ve got to have the ball,” Golden answered. “There’s no running game when you have 53 plays and 20 of those are when you’re down late in the game and you’re just trying to get back in it quickly. We lost two possessions [with turnovers] in the first half that were critical. We didn’t do a good enough job on third down on either side of the ball. That differential is a big part of time of possession and possessions itself.
“You can’t be a good running team if you don’t convert on third down and you don’t possess the football. It’s all interwoven.”
Each game, Golden lets all three units know how many points he believes the Canes will need to win.
“Last week I thought 30 would have been just an awesome effort for us and we ended up with 24,” he said. “With any measure of ball security you can hit that number. But when you give them three short fields [because of turnovers], 30 becomes 51 to win. You’re not doing that with Virginia Tech. Nobody is.
“We wanted to run the ball more. Couldn’t.”
And when they did, it pretty much proved futile.
“We made a lot of errors,” said Edwards, being used as a power back with double tight-end sets and two-back situations. “I missed a lot of reads and a couple of holes on runs. ... It was definitely not our best. We wanted to average 5 yards a carry and we averaged 1.2.”
Still, Edwards and Crawford said they’re staying positive. “We had a few hiccups the past two weeks, but we’ve already matched our win total from last year,” Crawford said.
Crawford was asked if he would take it as a sign of respect if the Blue Devils (69th-ranked run defense) come out Saturday and, like the Hokies, keep eight in the box.
“I never really looked at it that way,” he said. “I guess that’s a sign of respect, but I’m more focused with how we can figure out how to get those people out of the box.
“They can keep that respect. We’ll figure it out. Well get the running game going again.”