Miami earned its second win of the season with a 38-10 beating of Bethune-Cookman, though the box score may as well read Duke 28, Wildcats 10.
For the second time in three weeks, true freshman running back Duke Johnson showed what he’s capable of during his three to four years at “The U”.
In his first home start Johnson had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, took a 50-yard pass to the end zone and punched two more in on the ground, one from a yard out and the other from twenty-eight.
Johnson now has a half dozen touchdowns in three games – four going for at least fifty yards – and finished with 246 all-purpose yards.
Johnson could be that Edgerrin James-like cornerstone player that sparks the rebuild, even if he doesn’t fully get to revel in it himself.
James came to Miami in 1996, peaked as a junior in 1998, posting 299 yards and three touchdowns over No. 2 UCLA in the season finale, entered the NFL Draft the following spring.
The three UM teams he played for had a combined 23-12 record but over the next few years went 9-4, 11-1, 12-0, 12-1 and 11-2, completing the comeback that he helped spark.
The James Effect also impacted future recruiting classes. While he left as a projected top five pick in the NFL Draft (he went fourth overall to Indianapolis), Miami hauled in a stellar recruiting class two months after the win over the Bruins, including more cornerstone-type pieces like Ken Dorsey, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Vernon Carey, Philip Buchanon and other greats who went on to help earn that coveted fifth ring.
That’s a lot of pressure on The Duke, but he appears to have the broad shoulders to handle it. Throw in the fire, he’s responded immediately and has done so with a level head, thanks to a strong mother, as well as a coaching staff that is keeping his head right.
It’s tongue-in-cheek and comical to state that the score was 28-10, in favor of “Duke” over Bethune-Cookman, but it’s somewhat factual, nonetheless.
The kickoff return came on the heels of a debacle. Philip Dorsett fumbled a punt return midway through the first quarter, setting Bethune-Cookman up on the UM twenty and six plays later, they barreled into the end zone with a one-yard touchdown run on third down.
Before the Wildcats could gain any momentum or the Canes defense could get down on itself, Johnson electrified the sparse crowd, but more importantly – his teammates – when blowing away every Bethune-Cookman special teamer en route to the end zone.
It was 7-7 before anyone could blink (and before ESPN had time to rub in the deficit on the scrolling ticker) and it was the spark Miami needed.
The second touchdown was more of a group effort, coming on the heels of a bad punt that gave the Canes the ball midfield. Mike James did the heavy lifting on the drive, rushing for twenty-seven yards on four carries but on 2nd-and-1, Johnson got the handoff and plunged in for the score, putting UM up 14-7.
The Canes took a 17-7 lead into halftime and Johnson was the only true spark on offense. James had some great carries and looked as explosive as he has in his career, but played second fiddle to Johnson simply because of how spectacular the freshman looked.
Eduardo Clements also has his moments at running back, but the story remained Duke, as well as the struggles of quarterback Stephen Morris. Morris finished 20-of-35 on the day. He had 211 yards, one touchdown and an interception – but of those fifteen incompletions, there were some glaring misses.
The rocket arm is hard to miss, but the lack of touch and balls sailing well out of reach of so many receivers is frustrating. Morris thrived on high percentage underneath passes against Boston College, but was rattled at Kansas State (re: five sacks) and didn’t recover in what should’ve been a stat-padding game against the easier-to-tame FCS Wildcats.
Some stats actually were padded when fifty of those 211 passing yards came on a little dump off to Johnson.
Stuck at 17-7 halfway through the third quarter – and facing a daunting 1st-and-20 after Asante Cleveland was called for holding Morris had a five-yard pass to Johnson, who cut and weaved his way forty-five more yards to his third score on the day.
Bethune-Cookman tacked on a field goal a few drives later and with just under ten minutes remaining, leading 24-10, Miami leaned on Johnson again.
After Malcolm Lewis returned the kickoff to the Canes forty-five, Morris went right to Lewis for a six-yard pick-up. Johnson then rushed for thirteen and fullback Maurice Hagans got eight on a 1st-and-10.
On 2nd-and-2 Morris too the snap, pitched left to Johnson, who stopped on a dime, bounced right and accelerated, leaving everyone behind. The twenty-eight yard score put the Canes up 31-10.
On the ensuing possession Dallas Crawford intercepted a fake punt attempt, giving Miami the ball on the Bethune-Cookman twenty-one and four straight Clements runs netted thirty-one yards, culminating in the game’s final score.
Defensively Miami seems to take a step forward, though the competition was obviously a step down from what the Canes had seen the past few weeks. Bethune-Cookman racked up 355 total yards – 233 of which came on the ground – which doesn’t bode well with Georgia Tech on deck.
Still, a good performance from safety Deon Bush and A.J. Highsmith, as well as linebacker Tyrone Cornelius, all who made their first starts. The trio combined for seven tackles and one pass break-up while limiting mistakes.
It was a necessary win after such a lopsided loss at Kansas State, but three weeks in what does it really mean? Hard to tell. Outside of Johnson, it wasn’t a dominant performance anywhere else on the field.
Morris is still obviously missing receiver Allen Hurns, out with concussion-like symptoms (and ‘hopeful’ for this week) and defensively it’s still too many newbies filling in. Curtis Porter still remains hurt and Luther Robinson hasn’t been worked back into the fold, killing depth on an already depleted defensive line.
Safety Vaughn Telemaque could return this week, though linebacker and all-everything Denzel Perryman has a banged up ankle and his status is unknown right now. Miami also lost long snapper Sean McNally for an extended period of time, which is one of those strange injuries that could wreak havoc down the road.
Head coach Al Golden pushed for the noon kickoff last Saturday in effort to get Georgia Tech preparations underway sooner, which looks like a smart play based on the inability to stop the run and the Yellow Jackets offensive unit coming off a big win.
Georgia Tech is coming off a 56-20 beating of Virginia this past weekend. They racked up 594 total yards – 461 on the ground – and held the Cavaliers to 297 total yards. The Yellow Jackets had three gains of sixty yards (or longer) on its first four plays.
Quarterback Tevin Washington was a mere 6-for-8, but got the action going early with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Zack Laskey, making up for the majority of his 125 passing yards.
WIth his legs, Washington carried eleven times for ninety-three yards and three touchdowns while Georgia Tech’s leading rusher was Orwin Smith, who carried six times for 137 yards – including a 77-yard touchdown run.
Sitting at 2-1 there are still more questions than answers. Miami is 1-0 in ACC play, but conference action truly kicks off this weekend with the road trip to Atlanta. The rushing defense has been suspect, so what better way to address the weakness and to deal than with the most potent rushing attack the Canes will see all year?
Three games in it’s been one home cupcake with two road challenges for Miami. The lone upside in that; the fact that heading to Georgia Tech isn’t as daunting having already played in Chestnut Hill and Manhattan.
2012 will be a slew of one-game season for Golden and his Canes. They passed the test at Boston College, failed at Kansas State and passed against Bethune-Cookman.
Georgia Tech provides a different kind of challenge, so the message of the week remains, “assignment football” as coaches train a young defense against a quirky triple option.
Hopefully Miami goes in ready, comes out with a win and turns its focus to a home game against NC State, where at 3-1 hopefully more than 20,000 come out to see this work-in-progress in need of some hometown love.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.