No one could reasonably blame any Miami Hurricanes fan who holds his or her breath every time running back Mark Walton or wide receiver Ahmmon Richards gets tackled.
They are Miami’s biggest game-breakers, and both have battled injuries so far this season — an ankle issue for Walton and a hamstring for Richards.
Miami coach Mark Richt said Saturday that he expects both of his stars to play next Saturday when his 14th-ranked Canes (3-0, 1-0) travel to Tallahassee to take on Atlantic Coast Conference rival Florida State.
“We’re a better team when we have Ahmmon, and we’re a better team when we have Walton,” said Richt, whose team has won eight games in a row dating to last season but hasn’t beaten Florida State since 2009. “But we’ll show up with whoever is healthy enough to play.”
Richards, a sophomore who led all freshmen with 934 receiving yards last season, made a major impact in his return to the field in Friday’s 31-6 win over Duke.
He caught three passes for 106 yards and one touchdown and reminded everyone of the player who broke Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old school record for freshman receiving yards in 2016.
Richards’ 49-yard touchdown with 11:02 left in the fourth quarter put the game away, giving Miami a 24-6 lead. And he would’ve had a second score if not for an offensive interference call that went against him due to a slight shove on the defensive back.
“It was unfortunate that his last touchdown got called back — that would’ve been a nice way to end it,” Richt said. “He had a couple of stop-and-go routes that [quarterback Malik Rosier] threw beautifully. [Richards’] shallow crossing route [for the score] was big. It hit him right in the gut, and he used his speed.”
Going into the Duke game, Richt said he didn’t want to have “too heavy a plan” for Richards. The concern for re-injury was evident.
“[But] I think he’s fine,” Richt said of Richards on the day after his 2017 debut. “I haven’t heard of any setback.”
Walton, who had 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage last season, is off to a fast start. He set a career high last week with a 204-yard rushing performance against Toledo, and he had 130 yards from scrimmage against Duke.
He was especially effective beating linebackers on swing passes on Friday, finishing with 79 yards on four receptions. However, the ankle he injured against Toledo resurfaced as a problem against Duke.
“I think he will be fine,” Richt said. “That’s my best guess. It’s sore, but that’s to be expected. He’s more banged up than having a rolled-up ankle.
“Our goal is for him to be as fresh as possible [for Florida State] and still be prepared.”
As for Walton’s offensive line — a unit that gave up three sacks against Duke and didn’t always create holes in the run game — Richt expressed confidence in the group in general and freshman right guard Navaughn Donaldson in particular.
Donaldson, who was beaten for at least one of the sacks, lost some playing time to fellow freshman Corey Gaynor on Friday, but Richt clearly didn’t feel it was fair to single him out.
“I don’t even know how his name got mentioned — he’s definitely our right guard,” Richt said. “We have all the faith in him. Every lineman struggles at times if you watch college football.
“He didn’t struggle the whole game — just a couple of times on pass protection when he didn’t take care of business like he should have.”