Davon Johnson, a 4.33-second 40-yard speedster, came to the Miami Hurricanes in 2008 as an All-American receiver out of state champion Miami Booker T. Washington High. He caught 47 passes for nearly 1,400 yards in his final two seasons there.
Then, barely anything for four seasons — until now.
Phillip Dorsett, clocked at 4.4, came to the Hurricanes last season from national powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. He had 806 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his state-championship senior year and has emerged as the deep threat and dangerous target that recruiting analysts expected.
Together, the two made a powerful statement in the Hurricanes’ overtime victory Saturday at Georgia Tech: Dorsett’s 184 yards and Johnson’s 107 made them UM’s first two 100-yard receivers since Andre Johnson (111 yards) and Quadtrine Hill (108) did it for the top-ranked Canes against West Virginia in 2002.
“That’s awesome,” said UM receivers coach George McDonald, who is preparing the Canes (3-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to face ACC opponent North Carolina State (3-1, 0-0) on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. “I kind of had a feeling about Dorsett because we were throwing so many chunk yards to him early, so I figured he had to be close. But then I was on the bus going home and I looked at the stat sheet and was like, ‘Whoa! D.J. Where’d you come from?’
“It’s a reward for a guy that has worked really hard and took advantage of his opportunity.”
With freshman receiver Malcolm Lewis out with a season-ending injury sustained at Georgia Tech, and junior Allen Hurns being reintegrated into the lineup after a head injury, the Hurricanes have shown they can pick up the slack by committee.
Fourteen players have caught at least one pass this season, with five in double digits.
“Based on what we’re doing, we want to play a lot of guys,” McDonald said Tuesday. “We said it last year. Our whole thing is building a consistent team, a consistent offense. So we’re not looking for a No. 1, we’re looking for a guy that, if you throw him the ball, he catches it.”
Johnson, who now has the second most receiving yards behind Dorsett with 153 on 11 catches, did just that Saturday.
In the game-tying drive, the fifth-year senior caught four consecutive passes from Stephen Morris for 50 yards, taking the Hurricanes to the Georgia Tech 41. After one incomplete pass, Morris hit Johnson again for 16 yards. Two plays later, Mike James’ touchdown catch made it 36-36.
“He put the team on his back and kept pushing,” fellow receiver Rashawn Scott said of Johnson. “He’s a great role model to me.”
Said UM coach Al Golden: “I’m real proud of him.”
Johnson described Saturday’s experience as “very emotional. It was my dream school coming here, and I always wanted to make big plays for this school.”
Before this year he had five catches and a touchdown as a freshman, then played special teams. Injuries plagued him his first few years, and he was switched to defensive back for 2011 before returning to receiver in 2012.
“It was hard for me,” he said. “I’d get hurt and then [other] guys were performing. I was always getting pushed back. … I knew I had it in me. I just had to get the confidence from the coaching staff to show them I could do it. … It was very special to share it with Phillip Dorsett.”
Dorsett leads the Canes with 21 catches for 273 yards, including his dazzling 65-yard touchdown reception just 57 seconds into Saturday’s game.
“Once you catch that deep ball,” he said, “it boosts your confidence for the rest of the game.”
The Wolfpack pass defense is ranked 40th nationally, allowing 206.7 passing yards a game. N.C. State is 27th in scoring defense (15.7 points allowed per game).
“They don’t press a lot,” Dorsett said. “They play off a lot. The corners like to sit on routes. We’re just going to try to take what the defense gives us.”