There were a few words that can summarize what Duke Johnson’s performance Saturday night against Florida State meant to the running back.
Redeeming is one. Record-breaking is another. But rewarding might be the most appropriate.
Despite FSU’s 30-26 come-from-behind victory over Miami in front of 67,530 fans at Sun Life Stadium, Johnson etched his name a little deeper into the Hurricanes’ history books.
The running back’s game-leading night on the ground — his sixth consecutive 100-plus-yard game — was also the sentimental end of a journey that began at last season’s FSU matchup and lasted for more than a year.
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It was in that previous meeting of in-state rivals, a 41-14 Hurricanes loss on Nov.2, 2013, in Tallahassee, in which Johnson was carted off the field with a broken ankle and sidelined for the rest of the season.
But the running back started anew, fully recovered 11 months later and with something to prove. It wasn’t long before he started making headlines.
Johnson had a heavy hand or, rather, foot in each of the Canes’ Atlantic Coast Conference wins this season, and he helped Miami get to its 5-0 record at Sun Life heading into Saturday’s game.
His consistency at running back has been Miami’s tandem threat along with Brad Kaaya’s arm, and Saturday’s matchup was no different.
Already the program’s leader in all-purpose yards, Johnson became the first player in Miami history to surpass the 5,000 all-purpose-yard milestone with a game-best 130 yards on 27 carries and a rushing touchdown Saturday.
The Canes held the lead until late in the fourth quarter when Johnson’s FSU counterpart, Dalvin Cook, sealed the Seminoles’ win with a 26-yard touchdown run.
Cook was the next-best rusher on the field Saturday, running for 92 yards on seven carries. Miami’s Joe Yearby was the second-best rusher for the Canes, gaining 34 yards on 10 carries.
But for the better part of three-and-a-half hours, it was Johnson’s game. He made mince meat of FSU’s secondary — the Seminoles came to Sun Life ranked 35th nationally in rushing defense.
Johnson’s 1-yard run got Miami its second touchdown of the night with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, FSU had 114 yards rushing.
Johnson also passed Miami alumnus and Dolphins mainstay Lamar Miller’s single-season rushing yards record.
Johnson entered Saturday’s game eighth in the nation at 134.8 yards per game, was fourth in the nation in yards from scrimmage with 1,486 and seventh in the nation with 1,213 rushing yards this season.
The last time Johnson had a sub-100-yard game was in September, and the attention he is getting in the ACC spread to the periphery of discussions regarding Heisman Trophy candidates.
Johnson, not one for personal accolades, counted Saturday night as a personal loss no matter what because of the final score.
"We didn't capitalize when we should have," Johnson said. "There were a lot of plays we got down in good position, and made mistakes."
Still, for Johnson, what a difference a year made.