Johnson's speed, skill helps lift Miami
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Perhaps LeBron James was busy working out with Kevin Durant. Or maybe a game against Bethune-Cookman just didn't excite him.
James didn't tweet Saturday, two weeks after the Miami Heat star had told his six million followers, "Duke Johnson is the truth out there for the U! True freshman. #speedkills."
Nevertheless, the speed from Johnson did do in another Miami Hurricanes foe.
Johnson scored four touchdowns in three different ways and accounted for 246 all-purpose yards as the Hurricanes defeated the Wildcats 38-10 at Sun Life Stadium in front of a crowd that was announced at 39,435 but was much smaller in actuality.
Those who stayed home from Miami's home opener missed yet another scintillating show by Johnson, who had broken lose two weeks ago against Boston College with touchdown runs of 54 and 56 yards in his college debut. But there should be plenty more opportunities to see the running back do amazing things.
"I'm just waiting for him to do a back flip sometime in the middle of a play," said Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris. "He can do it."
No doubting that here. But while Johnson might be saving his airborne antics, he certainly did plenty Saturday.
With the Hurricanes trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, Johnson sprinted straight down the middle for a 95-yard kickoff return. He then had a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter for a 14-7 lead, which was his only ho-hum score of the day.
In the third quarter, Johnson took a short pass from Morris and finished off a 50-yard touchdown reception. Then in the fourth quarter, he went around the left end and cut back across the grain for a 28-yard TD run.
Johnson only needed 14 carries for his 94 yards rushing and caught three passes for 57 yards. Throw in his one kickoff return and he had just 18 touches.
"We have to make sure we don't think he can do more than he's doing right now,"' Miami coach Al Golden said of Johnson, the backup to Mike James, who carried just eight times Saturday for 77 yards. "Clearly, he's fresh enough right now when he gets in, he can make a difference. I think if we gave it to him 30 times, I don't know if that would be the case."
It's much easier for Golden to show restraint in how often Johnson gets the ball against Bethune-Cookman. It will be tougher when the Hurricanes face the likes of Georgia Tech, their foe next Saturday, and Notre Dame and Florida State, on the docket for October.
But don't expect Johnson, a Miami native, to make like Keyshawn Johnson and declare, "Just give me the damn ball." Other than his exciting play, all anybody on the Hurricanes wants to talk about is Johnson's humility.
"I'm always humbled," Johnson said when asked if he felt he had anything to prove after struggling the previous Saturday, getting just 19 yards on six carries in a 52-13 loss at then No. 21 Kansas State.
Flash forward to Johnson's home debut, which he called a "big deal" because he said he wanted to stay home to play in front of family and friends. Golden said a play that summed up Johnson's character was his 28-yard TD run.
"He comes from a great family," Golden said. "His mom (Cassandra Mitchell, a Miami-Dade County corrections officer) is not going to let him get a big head, I promise you that, if you haven't met her. The kid is very humble. He could have went over there (after his final score) and played to the student section. But he turned around and grabbed (fullback) Mo Hagens to make sure Mo was all right (he was) and congratulate him on what a block he made."
The mild-mannered Johnson said, "anytime I score a touchdown I want to give thanks to the other guys who helped me." And if it helps the Hurricanes, Johnson, who now has six in three games, won't mind scoring more TDs.
"Coach just tells me about doing my job," Johnson said. "If it's in my role this week to make a big play and help the team out any way I can, that's what I do. I just expect to do my role and if that involves doing this, then so be it."
Doing this was, according to STATS LLC, Johnson becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision player to get at least two rushing, one receiving and one return touchdown in the same game since East Carolina's Chris Johnson did it in 2007.
"One word for him is just amazing," said Miami offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson.
Hurricanes defensive end Shayon Green said he turns into a fan when watching Johnson from the sideline.
"Very exciting to watch him play," Green said. "I look forward to watching him play and to see what Duke is going to do."
Perhaps a back flip will be Johnson's next trick. That would figure to again get James' attention.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson