In the third quarter last Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson caught a screen pass at midfield and appeared to be headed for a 15-yard gain. Eight seconds later, Johnson was in the end zone, having completed a 50-yard touchdown.
It was a well-designed play that gave Johnson plenty of space to run, but the primary reason Johnson scored was a block by left guard Jon Feliciano.
Nine yards up the field – two yards ahead of Johnson – Feliciano had made a diving block and took out two defenders, tripping another in the process. Johnson cut right and was off, untouched.
Like every offensive lineman, Feliciano doles out blocks immediately after the snap. But where Feliciano really thrives is down the field.
And Johnson has noticed.
“I just love running behind Feliciano,” Johnson said. “A lot of my big runs are behind Feliciano. He’s a big guy that can move and block great in space.”
Feliciano said he was flattered to be singled out by the new Hurricanes star, but said that both Johnson’s and his own success can be attributed to the play of the offensive line as a whole.
“It’s nice to hear that but it’s the whole offensive line doing their job at one time,” Feliciano said. “It’s not really just me, it’s everyone out there.”
THE SKINNY ON FELICIANO
Last season Feliciano was listed at 330 pounds. Now, the 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore from Davie Western High is down to 314.
Perhaps more important than the weight he has dropped is the strength he has gained.
Feliciano said he could bench-press 225 pounds 17 times last season. This year Feliciano is up to 25 reps.
“The biggest difference with Feliciano is his weight is down, his conditioning is up and he’s finishing better than anyone on the offensive line right now,” UM coach Al Golden said. “He’s playing with a lot of energy down the field, pushing piles and finishing blocks.”
Golden said Feliciano’s improvements have set an example for his teammates, who he said need to display the same energy Feliciano has shown recently.
Part of what motivates Feliciano to go faster in games is the knowledge that Johnson has the ball and is sprinting right behind him.
“When you’re pulling and I feel [Johnson] tugging on my back I’m like ‘Oh, gotta move faster!’ ” Feliciano said.
After their first three games last year, the Hurricanes had scored only three rushing touchdowns. This year that total is six, with only two coming off short-yardage carries.
LAYING IT ON THE LINE
Despite the loss of star running back Lamar Miller to the NFL, Hurricanes players said they expected the team to excel on the ground this season.
“We were expecting our backs to have a great year because we saw in practice the things that our offensive linemen were doing,” defensive lineman Corey King said. “Once our linemen execute their plays, our backs get free.”
Against Georgia Tech on Saturday, the UM line will face the challenge of a defensive formation they have not seen this season: the 3-4.
“They’re a really good defense,” Feliciano said of the Yellow Jackets. “Up front they run the 3-4 and not a lot of teams run that. It’s a little confusing but we’re going to be watching film and getting ready for them.”
If the Hurricanes find rushing success in Atlanta, look for Feliciano to be involved – but any touchdown celebrations likely will be subdued.
Last year, Feliciano sprained his ankle during a touchdown celebration against the Yellow Jackets and missed two games.