The Miami Hurricanes found their quarterback.
And thanks to a baby-faced freshman named Randy “Duke” Johnson, they found their way.
Johnson ran for 135 yards on seven carries — including touchdown sprints of 54 and 56 yards — to help the Canes bounce back from a 14-0 deficit Saturday and defeat Boston College 41-32 in the season opener at Alumni Stadium.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a group,” UM coach Al Golden said. “Down 14-0 in the ACC in a terrible environment, rattled a little bit — dropping balls, offsides and some things like that. And just to hang in there. Phew. Good job.
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“Think about where we were last November against their team. A lot of young guys came through for us big today.”
UM quarterback Stephen Morris, an accurate and strong-armed junior playing his first game since offseason back surgery, was poised and confident, leading a hurry-up offense that players said was implemented at the end of fall camp. Morris completed 28 of 45 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown to freshman Malcolm Lewis. He also threw an interception that bounced off the chest of UM receiver Rashawn Scott, and would have had several more completions had his teammates not dropped passes.
“He threw the ball really well,” Golden said. “He had great command. Think about where he was a year ago and where he is today. He’s our unquestioned leader right now. He had poise the whole game.”
Making Morris look even better — besides the strong play by the offensive line (true freshman Ereck Flowers started at right tackle and Shane McDermott got his first start at center) — was Duke Johnson.
Johnson, who recently graduated from Miami Norland High, broke numerous tackles and even found his footing at one point when he stumbled toward the end zone during his second touchdown run. He averaged 19.3 yards per carry.
“I had freshman jitters,” said Johnson, who repeatedly credited his older teammates for blocking for him and helping him learn. “I’m just doing my role. You have older guys in Mike James and Eduardo Clements, and this is their backfield.”
The overall UM defense was not nearly as polished. It looked sick at best to start the game and somehow recovered just enough by the end, despite a late BC touchdown with 6:48 left.
The Eagles had a 14-0 lead halfway through the first quarter, but the Canes scored two touchdowns in 53 seconds to end the first quarter tied at 14. The first score was a 1-yard plunge by Clements that culminated an 83-yard drive. The second was a 41-yard interception return by sophomore linebacker Denzel Perryman — a huge momentum changer.
“It sort of felt like he just dropped it off to me,” Perryman said of BC quarterback Chase Rettig. “They do have tall linemen and I am kind of short so I don’t think he saw me. It feels great. It was my first touchdown as a college player and it was kind of crazy.”
But the Hurricanes’ pass defense?
Bad. Maybe worse.
The Eagles were missing their top receiver and tight end with injuries, yet they still looked like All-Americans against the UM secondary. The Canes gave up 441 passing yards, their pass rush basically nonexistent. According to UM, the 441 represents the third-most passing yards ever allowed by Miami — behind only the 513 produced by UCLA in 1998 and the 477 by Boston College in the famous 1984 “Hail Flutie” game.
The run defense, believed to be the most vulnerable part of UM’s game, allowed only 101 rushing yards Saturday for a 3-yards-per-carry average.
Someone mentioned to Golden that it might be a “little disconcerting” that the Eagles passed for 441 yards.
“Just a little disconcerting?” Golden replied. “We’ll get it worked out. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. But look at how many of those [young] guys were playing for us and look how many came through for us. We made a commitment to do that. It was wholesale.”
But even the upper classmen had their moments. UM safety Vaughn Telemaque, a senior, was flagged for pass interference with 3:35 left, and BC, still down by 11, had hope.
The Eagles moved the ball to the 5, and had a first down with 3:02 remaining. Rettig threw two incompletions, then a completion to Spiffy Evans just short of the goal line. Rettig was stopped short on fourth down for the UM goal-line stand, silencing the crowd of 39,262.
The Canes next travel to Kansas State on Saturday for a noon game.