Dallas Crawford didn’t want to get the starting job this way. But now that he has it, he intends to make Duke Johnson proud.
“It was devastating to lose Duke,” Crawford said Monday, two days after the Hurricanes lost the nation’s fourth-ranked all-purpose player, 10th-ranked kickoff returner and 14th most prolific rusher to a broken ankle at Florida State. “He was running so well against a great defense and having a great year. We still haven’t really grasped what happened yet in the running-backs room.
“I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to start, but I hate that it has to be this way. I’d rather have Duke here, but it’s the next-man-up mentality. You’ve got to be ready.”
Johnson will undergo surgery as soon as the swelling subsides enough, UM coach Al Golden said Monday. “He’s in great spirits, and I know he is thankful for all the well wishes because that’s the kind of kid he is.”
Johnson finished his sophomore season with 920 yards and six touchdowns on 145 carries for a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. He had 1,393 all-purpose yards, and he averaged 28.3 yards per kickoff return.
Before he got hurt Saturday late in the third quarter, Johnson had rushed for 97 yards.
Now he will be replaced by a three-headed running-back attack for the home game Saturday against Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference): Crawford, senior Eduardo Clements and freshman Gus Edwards — with Crawford ready to take the starring role.
Johnson’s three backups at UM (7-1, 3-1) have run for a combined 605 yards on 116 carries, a 5.2 yards-per-carry average.
Freshman Walter Tucker, a backup fullback to starter Maurice Hagens, also will be getting some carries at tailback during practice “just so we’re covered,” Golden said.
Golden was asked Monday if the 2012 Freshman All-American and ACC Rookie of the Year would be back by spring practice.
“I think he’s going to be back sooner than later,” the coach said. “He’s just got to go through this process. He’ll have a great attitude. We’re going to try like heck to get him stronger and really work on his nutrition and his weight gain. I know Clinton Portis is one of the guys who talked to him about that.”
Former Hurricanes great Portis, now a media member with ACC Digital, already did his magic with Crawford on Oct. 17 when he pulled aside Crawford with 4 minutes 11 seconds left in the game at North Carolina and UM trailing 23-20.
Johnson had been knocked out of that game with a head injury midway through the first quarter.
“This is your moment,” Portis said he told Crawford just seconds before the Canes took over from their own 10-yard line. “Here’s the chance you’ve been waiting for.
“Duke is out of the game, and he’s got to ride on you.”
Crawford, who entered the season with 23 career rushing yards, not only finished the night with 137 yards on 33 carries, he also scored the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left to lead the Hurricanes to a 27-23 victory.
Nine rushing TDs
The 5-10, 194-pound sophomore now has 294 yards on 67 carries for a 4.4 yards-per-carry average. His nine rushing touchdowns rank 28th nationally. He also has a receiving touchdown.
According to UM, Crawford is averaging a touchdown every 7.5 offensive touches.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Duke,” UM offensive coordinator James Coley said, “but I’m looking forward to seeing Dallas in this role because he does so much for this team.
“He was a big part of us winning that [North Carolina] game.”
Clements, who has 126 yards on 20 carries this season after returning from offseason surgery to repair two herniated disks in his neck, wasn’t available for interviews Monday. But he posted enough entries on Twitter to reflect his intensity.
“All I Ever Wanted Was A Chance,” Clements tweeted. “I Got People That [Are] Depending On Me & I Can’t Give Up!”
And this: “Long As I Got Air In My Lungs I’m Grinding!”
Crawford called Clements “a strong downhill runner who is “always going to keep his legs moving forward” and is “great in pass protection. I don’t think there’s a blitz that can get him.”
But it might be the young Edwards, 6-2 and 225 pounds, who surprises everyone. Edwards, has had only one carry in the past four games but ran for 113 yards on 12 carries against Savannah State and 53 yards on 10 carries against USF.
“He’s got deceptive speed,” Golden said. “He’s a big back that can play fast. ... Gus is ready for this now, and he’s definitely going to be carrying the ball for us Saturday.”