Miami’s Duke Johnson (8) is tackled by Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson in the second half of Miami’s 24-21 victory last Saturday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
CORAL GABLES, FLA. — Duke Johnson’s favorite item of personal adornment: he wears a gold pendant around his neck with a Miami Hurricanes “U’’ logo and an 8-ball, representing his favorite number.
“In pool,” he explained, “the 8-ball is the last man standing.”
If the Hurricanes are to be the only unbeaten team left standing in Tallahassee on Saturday, Johnson will have to do what he has yet to do in his short, often-spectacular time at Miami.
While Johnson is one of the nation’s brightest young talents, he has not shined against the toughest teams on Miami’s schedule.
In four games against ranked opponents — Notre Dame, Kansas State and Florida State last year and Florida this year — Johnson has gained 144 yards and one touchdown, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. In 15 games against unranked teams, he has 1,643 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 7.8 yards per carry.
Saturday at No.3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC), Miami will face what coach Al Golden said may be the best team he has faced in his three seasons here. The No. 7 Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0) are a 22-point underdog, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.
If Miami has a chance in this game, it will be because it controls the ball and forces turnovers, but success in either venture is no guarantee.
FSU has given away the ball six times, the second-lowest total in the nation. And Miami (214.7 rushing yards per game) has put up more than rushing 200 yards against Florida State just twice in the last 25 years.
Last season, the Seminoles held Johnson (27 yards) and Mike James (25) to nearly nothing. UM’s longest carry went for 9 yards.
And the Noles’ defense is even better this year.
FSU is first in the nation in passing yards allowed (153.7) and fifth in pass efficiency allowed (97.3), and isn’t shabby against the run, allowing 135.7 yards per game, which is 29th in the nation.
Though three opponents have had a 100-yard rusher against FSU, those yards have largely come against FSU’s second-string units. In its last three games, the Seminoles’ first-team defense has allowed a single touchdown, to Clemson.
‘’They’re like, elite athletes,” Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. “They’re just a really, really driven team as far as conditioning and speed and getting to the football.
‘’They’re all good. And we’re going to have to play our best game.”
The onus is on Johnson, running mate Dallas Crawford and Miami’s solid offensive line to do the same.
Despite missing approximately seven quarters of football in seven games, Johnson ranks 12th in the nation in yards per game (117.6) and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry on 17.4 carries per game. He was named ACC offensive back of the week after last week’s 168-yard, two-touchdown performance against Wake Forest. That came on a career-high 30 carries, a load Johnson said he’s ready to bear again.
‘’This time last year, I was banged up a lot,” he said. “(I had) ankle injuries and toe injuries, to where I couldn’t provide my best for the team. Now I’m bigger and stronger than I was last year, so I can take the pounding.”
Stopping Johnson, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, is predicated on stopping him behind the line of scrimmage. He has the pieces to play that style, like thick tackles Timmy Jernigan and Jacobbi McDaniel and a stable of rangy linebackers.
‘’You’ve got to be physical,” Fisher said. “We’ll have to man up, there’s no doubt.”
Miami’s run game has come alive when it counts. In the fourth quarter of each of the last two games, the Hurricanes have gone to the ground almost exclusively, producing a pair of touchdown-scoring drives in each game. That has helped Miami stay undefeated despite a quarterback, Stephen Morris, who is struggling with inconsistency and an long-term ankle injury.
Against North Carolina, Crawford had 137 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. Against Wake Forest, Golden said his experienced offensive line asked to pound the ball. Johnson said that helped boost him.
‘’When my O-line is ready to run,” Johnson said, “that gets me excited. Knowing that’s what they want, so they’re going to put their all in and make (things) happen.”
If they don’t do that Saturday night, Miami could be behind the 8-ball.
Matt Porter writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: matt(underscore)porter(at)pbpost.com.
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By The Associated Press
No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0 ACC) at No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0), 8 p.m. EDT (ABC)
Line: Florida State by 22.
Series record: Miami 31-26.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Championship aspirations. The Seminoles have been dominant in 2013 and are No. 3 in the BCS rankings. The “Cardiac Canes” needed some late-game heroics to get past North Carolina and Wake Forest, but they remain one of eight undefeated teams in major college football. Oh, and there’s a little pride on the line between the intra-state rivals with friends on both sides and recruits watching closely.
The Hurricanes have to establish the run to have a chance against the No. 4 scoring defense in the FBS. Boston College ran for 200 yards on 45 carries against Florida State. The Eagles have been the only team to establish the run against the Seminoles and the only team to stay within 14 points. RB Duke Johnson is the focal point of the Miami offense with 117.6 yards rushing per game and six touchdowns. The Florida State run defense ranks No. 29 in nation, allowing 135.7 yards per game. Miami would love to control the clock and keep the Florida State offense on the sideline.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Miami: QB Stephen Morris cannot turn over the ball against the No. 1 pass defense in the country (153.7 yards per game). The Hurricanes want to establish Johnson, but Morris has to hold his own. He has the fourth-most career passing yards (6,329) in school history, but a 10-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013.
Florida State: NG Timmy Jerningan won’t fill the box score with numbers, but he’s the key to controlling the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-2, 296-pounder plugs gaps and demands a double-team that allows linebackers Terrance Smith and Telvin Smith to chase ball carriers.
FACTS & FIGURES
Miami’s No. 7 ranking is its highest since 2005. ... The Hurricanes needed a touchdown inside the final minute of the last two games to secure victories. ... Miami leads the nation with a 29.6 kickoff return average. ... The Seminoles have scored touchdowns on 54.2 percent of their drives, second-best in the country. ... Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown 23 touchdowns and four interceptions.
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