When University of Miami star safety Jaquan Johnson, thought by many to be the best player on the team, went down with an injury shortly before halftime Saturday at Toledo, the Hurricanes seemed to, at least initially, unravel.
Johnson, who went into the locker room then came out to the sideline, never returned to the game, which UM’s offense helped save with four touchdowns in the second half for a 49-24 victory.
Coach Mark Richt said on Sunday that Johnson has a hamstring strain and was “wounded,’’ despite thoughts publicly by ESPN2’s Andre Ware that Johnson was faking it.
When Richt was asked on a teleconference if he were made aware of Ware’s comment, Richt said, “No,’’ in his usual, calm manner.
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“But I think there’s been a lot of that going on to slow down offensive teams that go fast,’’ Richt said. “I’m sure they’ve done enough games where they feel like they’ve seen a guy just go down and then one or two plays later just go back in the game, so it’s hard to say.
“He was wounded, and if you hobble off the field with an injury sometimes it’s not wise. So, we knew he was hurt and we told him to get down so we could come see him. You just don’t want a guy to have an injury and then he wants to gut it out or be, you know, the tough guy, and not have people help him.
“Sometimes you can make an injury worse if you try to drag yourself off the field. We knew he was wounded and we just wanted him to stay there so we could attend to him and get him safe.
“It’s definitely a hamstring strain. I don’t know how severe. It’s still being evaluated. Those things, you just never know what they’re going to do as to how severe they are. Sometimes heat and cramping can add to the issue.
“I’ve seen guys that got caught with a cramp so severe that they thought maybe they pulled a muscle. I’m not saying that’s what it is. But I do think there is a strain of the hamstring and we just gotta wait and see how he responds. But I think he felt better today than yesterday, which is a good sign.”
Despite missing the entire second half, Johnson, a preseason AP All-American, led the Hurricanes with seven tackles.
▪ Richt said the other players who went down with injuries, most of them returning to the game, were fine. They include striker Romeo Finley, cornerback Trajan Bandy and defensive tackle Gerald Willis.
Willis, who has been dominating at defensive tackle, had five tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss Saturday. He supposedly had cramps, and went in and out of the game afterward. He walked off the field and into the locker room with a few minutes remaining in the game.
▪ UM’s running backs amassed 268 yards rushing on Saturday, with starting tailback Travis Homer carrying 16 times for 62 yards, including converting a crucial fourth-and-two situation in the third quarter when the Canes were up by only seven points. Four plays later, quarterback Malik Rosier completed a 5-yard touchdown to Lawrence Cager to put UM up 35-21.
Backup tailback DeeJay Dallas ran 17 times for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Richt indicated that it’s beneficial “to share the load’’ and “keep it even’’ among his top two tailbacks.
“Your top two backs you’d like to have them carry anywhere from 12 to 20 times a game, depending on how the game goes.’’
▪ For the first time this season, the Hurricanes offensive line gave did not give up a sack on Saturday, and played its best game yet. The Canes allowed four sacks against LSU, and one against Savannah State.
“I thought Malik [Rosier] did a really good job,’’ Richt said, “and [center] Tyler [Gauthier] together, to get us in the right blocking schemes in a lot of our run game. We blocked better on our perimeter. Our wide receivers and runners blocked better than they did last week. That helps you get the longer runs.
“...No sacks was big.”
Richt said more offensive linemen are playing. “[Venzell] Boulware got to play, [DJ] Scaife got to play, and before it was all over, just about all of them got to play. We just got to keep banging away. ...They definitely know what they’re doing and they’re putting their hat on the right people.’’
▪ The Hurricanes (2-1) maintained their No. 21 ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll and their No. 20 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll on Sunday. LSU, which upset former No. 7 Auburn Saturday and defeated UM in the opener when the Canes were No. 8 and LSU was No. 25, is now No. 6 in both polls.
▪ The Canes are now preparing to meet FIU (2-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN2.