CORAL GABLES (AP) — Miami running back Duke Johnson was not completely certain what would happen in his college debut.
It more than met expectations.
He rushed for 135 yards, the most of any freshman in the country on college football’s opening weekend. He had two touchdown runs, both exceeding 50 yards — something only three major-college players managed to do in a single game last season. He even got a shout-out tweet from NBA MVP LeBron James of the Miami Heat, who raved about Johnson’s speed.
Ho-hum, Johnson said. He celebrated after the win by getting some sleep. Lots of sleep.
“My sister and a couple of my friends, they were more excited than I was,” Johnson said.
A 54-yard run for a score in the second quarter, followed by a 56-yard sprint for another in the third ensured that Johnson’s debut would be a winning one, with the Hurricanes beating Boston College 41-32. A stronger test figures to await the Hurricanes this week, with Miami (1-0) on the road again, this time to play No. 22 Kansas State (1-0).
The Wildcats won 28-24 in Miami last season, despite giving up 106 yards rushing to now-former Hurricane Lamar Miller. Of those, 59 came on one play — Miller averaged 2.8 yards on his other 17 carries against K-State a year ago.
Johnson insists that he’s just happy to help in the Miami backfield behind upperclassmen Mike James and Eduardo Clements. But it’s telling that when Kansas State coach Bill Snyder spoke about Miami’s running game on Monday, all the talk was about Johnson.
“He is a very dynamic young player, quite obviously,” Snyder said. “The two long touchdown runs that he hit demonstrate a variety of different things, that he has good movement to him, he’s got good vision, and beyond all he runs faster than most people in the world. So I was very impressed.”
With good reason.
Johnson’s third college carry was one that Miami will remember for a while. He stumbled moments after taking the handoff from quarterback Stephen Morris, quickly picking up blocks from tight end Clive Walford and linemen Ereck Flowers and Jon Feliciano, among others, to get the play going.
Johnson made his way to the right side, where receiver Phillip Dorsett threw another block. Walford trailed the play and picked up his second key block in a matter of seconds, then Johnson got completely freed with a stiff-arm. Gone, 54 yards, Miami had the lead.
The next touchdown — all speed. A couple of blocks at the line, Johnson saw a gap, and took off for the end zone, making it look easy.
“I’m happy for the young man,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “This might be your first exposure seeing him in a Miami Hurricane uniform, but what I see every day is someone that works hard, finishes, is unselfish. … I think Duke comes from a family that they’re not going to let him get anything but continue to be level-headed and humble.”
Sure enough, Johnson confirmed so much on Monday.
Even after the highlight-reel scores, even after becoming the first Miami running back since Frank Gore in 2001 to rush for more than 100 yards on less than 10 carries, Johnson was talking about what he needs to do better. Not coincidentally, his mother — who got a congratulatory phone call over the weekend from former Hurricane star Devin Hester — routinely stresses the same thing.
“I’m not going to broadcast myself or anything like that,” Johnson said. “It’s one game. I try to stay to myself always and not be into the scene and spotlight and things like that.”
At 5-foot-8, Johnson was not brought to Miami to be a workhorse back as a freshman. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has preached balance, and despite all the buzz about Johnson, the K-State game plan will still feature plenty of work for James and Clements.
“We want everybody to touch the football,” Fisch said.
That’s just fine with Johnson, who was Florida’s high school “Mr. Football” a year ago after rushing for 10 yards a carry — he averaged nearly 20 against Boston College — and one of the highest-rated recruits in the nation before signing to lead Miami’s 2012 incoming class.
“I’m not looking for every carry or every down I get the ball,” Johnson said. “I’m just coming to play my role.”
So far, so good.