University of Miami coach Al Golden said Duke Johnson “ran with a purpose and an anger” his team hadn’t seen from him before Saturday.
In the end, the best news for the Hurricanes was that Johnson was there — healthy and upright — in the fourth quarter to help keep his team unbeaten Saturday.
After battling concussions and migraines and fumbles, and taking quite a few big hits during his first six games — including one that knocked him out and relegated him to sideline cheerleader at North Carolina almost two weeks ago — Johnson asked for the ball in the fourth quarter and delivered against Wake Forest.
He ran it 13 times for 79 yards and scored twice over the final five minutes of the game, putting the Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) on his back as they rallied twice to take the lead in a 24-21 victory at Sun Life Stadium.
What was on Johnson’s mind? What backup Dallas Crawford did last week, rushing for 137 yards in a win against North Carolina, and that Golden put Saturday’s game in Johnson’s hands on the final drive.
“I had a lot of momentum coming into the drive, and I wanted the ball,” said Johnson, who carried it seven times for 42 yards on the drive and capped it with the winning 1-yard touchdown plunge with 53 seconds remaining.
“So I went to the coaches and we talked about it, and Coach [Golden] was like, ‘We’re going to put the game in your hands, the ball in your hands and you make it happen.’ It’s a great feeling knowing everybody is going to put their faith in you. Coach didn’t have to give me the ball with the previous fumbles I had in the past. He didn’t have to. But it was a great feeling of him trusting me, giving it to me and helping the team win.”
What was the rest of UM’s offense doing? Watching Duke be Duke.
“He’s going to have his games where sometimes he’s unbelievable and sometimes the defense just gets to him,” said UM quarterback Stephen Morris, who after a four-interception performance at UNC threw the ball just three times on UM’s final two scoring drives.
“I was really happy for him and excited for him that we called on his number. I was excited for him. He had great ball security throughout the whole game, two hands on the ball especially on the last couple drives. He really didn’t say much, and when Duke doesn’t talk that’s when he’s kind of angry. Duke did Duke. He ran.”
Johnson, who came into Saturday’s game second in the ACC in rushing behind Boston College’s Andre Williams, ran it a career-high 30 times total Saturday for 168 yards. It was his seventh career 100-yard game.
Johnson had 85 yards in the fourth quarter alone on 14 attempts. Golden was in awe of Johnson’s conditioning.
“He was clearly on a mission,” Golden said. “How about his conditioning? What tremendous conditioning. He gets knocked out of the game last week, and this week he is lowering the pads all day, second and third effort … what can you say about the effort that he gave? That’s a heck of a second half, and certainly heck of a fourth quarter.”
With 1,744 career yards in 19 career games, Johnson passed Chuck Foreman, Don Bosseler and Warren Williams on UM’s all-time rushing list for 16th place. He also surpassed the 200 all-purpose-yard mark for the ninth time in his career. UM is 8-1 when he does.
Johnson, held to 37 yards on 10 carries in the first half, said he was blessed not to leave Saturday’s game earlier when he was horse-collared on a tackle by Wake safety Ryan Janvion in the third quarter.
“A million guys wouldn’t have made it out of that. But I did,” said Johnson, who has three games this season where he has left with injuries and hasn’t carried the ball more than 14 times. “Being banged up comes with the sport. I signed up for this. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. I expect to get hurt. I expect to get hit. It’s all about how you answer, how you come back the next game and help your team win.”