The positive news Wednesday for the Miami Hurricanes involved two high-profile players on offense, but coach Al Golden also had good things to say about his much-maligned defense.
First, the coach shared that UM running back Duke Johnson and quarterback Stephen Morris are healing well from their injuries.
“He practiced [Wednesday],” Golden said of Johnson, who is 18th nationally in kickoff returns and the nation’s 28th-ranked all-purpose runner. “The X-rays were negative. Was he 100 percent? No. But he was certainly over 90, enough to practice.”
Johnson, whose rushing production has been down the past four weeks, has been dealing with turf toe.
But Golden said previously that the injury Johnson sustained Saturday against Florida State was separate.
“I’m not sure if it’s an ankle or a foot,” the coach said the day after UM’s 33-20 loss to the Seminoles.
As for Morris — who played with a sprained left ankle last weekend and also mentioned a sore hamstring after the game — he, too is on the mend, according to Golden.
When asked if Morris was still in a boot and still sore, the coach answered: “No. He’s doing better. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday [off] helped him a lot. It’s not like we’re asking him to run the ball a lot or scramble. It’s mostly pocket stuff or handing the ball off or play action. He did fine. The combination of those three days and another day off Friday and a fairly light practice on Saturday should get us to where we want to be for game week.”
Golden said he is pleased with how the team’s young defensive players have improved — despite UM being ranked 114th nationally in total defense.
That defense will face Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and its struggling offense next Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium.
UM (4-4, 3-2) held FSU to 16 points and was down by only three points after three quarters — until FSU wore down the Canes with 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of those young guys are starting to execute their role very well,” Golden said.
“[Safety] Deon Bush is not just playing, he’s playing good football. [Linebacker] Eddie Johnson is playing good football for us. Obviously, getting [linebackers] Jimmy Gaines, Gionni Paul, Denzel Perryman and [Raphael] Kirby healthy has helped us a lot. It has helped us with our rotation there, and it has helped us with our production.
“All of those guys I mentioned are young except for Jimmy. Those guys have come a long way.”
Golden also praised freshman defensive end Tyriq McCord for his pass-rushing ability. But he said “the biggest improvement” for UM’s defense the past two weeks has been among the interior linemen.
“[Olsen] Pierre and Corey King and Earl Moore and those guys inside, we have to have a little better gap integrity still,” Golden said, “but those guys are playing better and giving us an opportunity to fit runs better.”
Speed and power
Hokies assistant to the head coach Billy Hite, the running backs coach at Tech from 1978 to 2010, said he watched “a bunch of film on Miami defensively” and mentioned the Canes’ improvement since the first game.
“Their linebackers are good,” Hite said. “And they’ve got the typical team speed. Those guys can fly around. They’re physical — they’ll hit you.”