University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden: ‘Unselfish’ players thriving

Duke Johnson celebrates after one of his two touchdowns during Thursday night’s win. Johnson had a career-high 249 yards rushing.
Duke Johnson celebrates after one of his two touchdowns during Thursday night’s win. Johnson had a career-high 249 yards rushing. Getty Images

Moments after the University of Miami’s 30-6 victory at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, right tackle Jonathan Feliciano joked that he was mad the Hurricanes ran out the clock by taking a knee.

“We were losing yards,” Feliciano told WQAM color analyst Don Bailey Jr. between giggles. “I wanted to go back out there and get 400 [yards rushing]. That’s what we were talking about on the sidelines.”

It’s funny how quickly the mood in the locker room can change in college football.

Less than three weeks after dropping to 0-3 on the road and 1-2 in Atlantic Coast Conference play after being run off the field at Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2 ACC) are heading toward the final month of the season with some newfound swag.

Coach Al Golden called his team’s performance in Blacksburg “the most complete game we’ve played this year,” but he stopped short of saying if it was his most impressive victory since arriving in Coral Gables in December 2010.

“I don’t get into all that, respectfully,” Golden said. “You guys analyze that. We’re pretty much putting a bow on this thing by 6:30 [Friday] and then moving on to North Carolina. So I’ll leave that analysis up to you.

“But a year ago we needed a two-minute drive to win at Chapel Hill, and it seems like the last two years we’ve won big games on Thursday night in really tough environments,” he continued. “So I think, from that standpoint, our team had a good look, a lot of confidence and again there’s a lot of teams that go into that place and fall victim. So I was glad we didn’t.”

The Hurricanes couldn’t have afforded a loss to have any realistic shot of winning the Coastal Division.

Four teams are still ahead of the Canes in the standings: Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC), Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-1), Virginia (4-3, 2-1 ACC) and Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2). The Yellow Jackets, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over UM, travel to Pitt on Saturday afternoon. Virginia is at home against UM’s next opponent, North Carolina. Duke, which lost to the Hurricanes, is enjoying a bye week before traveling to Pitt next week.

Golden said the Hurricanes came out of Thursday’s game healthy, and specifically said running back Joe Yearby (who didn’t play at Virginia Tech) and linebacker Juwon Young, who both have hamstring injuries, “will be fine.”

Golden is giving the team the weekend off before it returns to practice Monday to begin preparation for the Tar Heels, who have one of the nation’s most potent offenses (38.7 points per game) led by quarterback Marquis Williams and one of the worst defenses (43.3 points per game allowed).

▪ Duke Johnson’s career-high 249 rushing yards on Thursday raised his season average per game to 129.5, 12th-best in the nation. He ranks second nationally in yards from scrimmage with 1,260.

After being held to 28 rushing yards last season by the Hokies without Johnson, the Canes ran for a season-high 364 yards on Thursday and have now run for 699 yards on 88 carries (UM has thrown the ball just 41 times) in their past two games combined.

UM’s 6.97 yards per play ranks sixth nationally behind only Marshall (7.75), Georgia Southern (7.63), Oregon (7.41), East Carolina (7.15) and Wisconsin (7.0).

“I think we have a lot of unselfish guys right now,” Golden said. “If you look at Duke’s first long run against Cincinnati, Malcolm Lewis is on the right side and he gets a great block on the safety. Phillip [Dorsett] is on the front side, and he gets a great block. Otherwise, it’s a 7-yard gain. The offensive line has been doing a good job. Danny [Isidora] is making a lot of progress. And Nick Linder is making a lot of progress, Alex Gall. I think those guys are making progress. But we’re getting a lot of unselfish play.

“We really asked the receivers, both tight ends Clive [Walford] and [Standish Dobard], and [fullback Walter] Tucker, to simply go out there and block for three hours and they all did it pridefully and willfully, and did it really well. I think that is a characteristic that’s really hard to come by. I’m glad we’re starting to see that.”

▪ What did Golden like most about UM’s defensive effort (262 yards allowed, six points, three turnovers)?

“We didn’t miss many tackles,” he said. “We fit them pretty good. We were very unselfish up front. Everybody was spilling the ball and directing the ball where it needed to be — either to the linebacker or the safety. And I think when the defensive linemen had opportunities they made plays. I thought the pass rush was good. I wish we could have finished it with a couple more sacks. But we certainly made the quarterback uncomfortable, made him move his feet and alter a lot of his throws, especially when we had them backed up with the field position.”

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