Hurricanes must adjust after losing Duke Johnson for year

University of Miami sophomore running back Duke Johnson will miss the remainder of the season with a fractured right ankle, a team official confirmed prior to head coach Al Golden’s teleconference Sunday afternoon.

According to Golden, Johnson will have surgery this week but will continue to be around the team as he coaches up his younger replacements and uses the time to get stronger and bigger in the weight room.

Golden said everyone who has interacted with Johnson — from the coaching to training staff — since the injury has been impressed with Johnson’s “remarkable attitude and how strong he’s been.”

“I know [Duke] felt like he was really starting to emerge and be the type of running back he wanted to be, not just snippets of it or flashes of it but on a consistent basis,” Golden said. “I think the biggest thing is I’m disappointed for Randy because he was really starting to understand how to be a good runner. He was really starting to convert talent to skill.”

The 5-9, 196-pounder, who finished with 23 carries for 97 yards in the 41-14 loss to Florida State, got hurt on a fourth-and-2 play in FSU territory with under two minutes left in the third quarter.

Hit one yard short of the first down, he began to go down from the initial contact before a few players fell on top of him, including one of his own offensive linemen. Johnson’s right leg bent underneath him at an awkward angle.

As medical personnel tended to him, Johnson remained on he ground. After further evaluation, he was driven away on a cart and taken in for x-rays. Reports following the game stated he was seen wearing a cast on his right leg.

It marked the second time this season Johnson, who exited the North Carolina game on Oct. 17 after taking a hard hit to the head on a block, left a contest early. In that same game the Hurricanes lost senior wideout Phillip Dorsett for four to six weeks with a partial tear in his medial collateral ligament.

Johnson, who arrived in Tallahassee fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards per game and 11th in rushing, watches his season come to a premature close with 920 yards, including a long of 59, on 145 attempts for six touchdowns. He averaged 115 yards per game.

“I thought he really ran the ball well last night,” Golden said. “He was starting to really impose himself in games now. I’m really disappointed for him now. I hope he can leave that blueprint in his mind of what he needs to be when he comes back.”

Sophomore Dallas Crawford will now carry the brunt of the work. When Johnson went down in the Tar Heels game, Crawford collected 145 yards and two touchdowns on 33 rushes. Crawford has scored a team-high nine touchdowns.

Senior Eduardo Clements (19 carries, 125 yards) and true freshman Gus Edwards (29 carries, 188 yards, 3 TDs) as well as fullbacks Walter Tucker and Maurice Hagens will be tasked with picking up the slack.

There will also be an impact on special teams during Johnson’s absence, creating what Golden called a trickle-down effect. Both Crawford and Clements have been mainstays for the unit, but their roles will be limited to focus on their jobs in the backfield.

“I know there are guys probably waking up this morning saying, ‘OK, it’s my turn to get this thing going,’ ” Golden said. “They’re going to have to step up in terms of carrying the ball. It’s an opportunity for those guys, and as a team we have to move forward and move forward quickly because of [Virginia Tech] we have to play [Saturday].”