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Johnson poses all-around threat

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, October 4, 2012

Miami running back Duke Johnson is fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards. He is second in the ACC in kickoff return average. He leads the Hurricanes in touchdowns.

All this, and he’s just a freshman.

Johnson came out of Miami Norland Senior High School as the No. 1 running back in the country after gaining nearly 2,000 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns as a senior. He was also named Florida’s Mr. Football while his team claimed a state title for the first time in nearly a decade.

In his collegiate debut against Boston College, Johnson ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. He became the first Miami freshman to top the century mark in rushing yards in his first game since Clinton Portis did it in 1999.

“Everybody’s got to get to the ball, especially with Duke,” Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “He’ll jump cuts and he’ll split defenders, so everyone has to get to the ball and everybody has to do their best and play within our scheme; realizing that Duke has the chance to break it at any time.”

The 5-foot-9, 188-pound freshman may not have the size of some other backs but makes up for it with his blazing speed. In high school, Johnson was clocked at 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.

“Oh, my gosh, he’s fast,” Irish graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. “When that guy touches the ball, he has the ability to take it to the house every single time. He’s a smaller back but he’s fast and we have to really be on top of our game.”

In just five games, the Miami product already has four touchdowns of more than 50 yards, equaling the 2011 total for the Hurricanes. He has seven total touchdowns while adding 184 total yards per game.

“Duke Johnson is a very explosive running back,” Te’o said. “He’s a very dynamic player who he will make plays catching the ball, running the ball and on special teams.”

Johnson stars on offense both rushing the ball – averaging almost seven yards per carry – and catching the ball at the rate of nearly 10 yards per reception. But he is also a threat on special teams, averaging 30 yards per return, including a touchdown.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said the Irish have dealt with other multidimensional players so far this season.

“Last week’s kid was pretty multidimensional, [Michigan quarterback] Denard Robinson. He’s a pretty good football player too. So we’ve had those players that we’ve had to prepare for,” Kelly said. “He’s a very good football player, and a number of player that’s we’re going to see over the next eight weeks that have similar skill sets.

“Well, I will tell you, we know where he is [on kickoffs]. We’re going to have to be quite aware as to where he is, and make sure that we do a great job in our cover teams.”

Johnson pairs with senior running back Mike James to provide a couple of options in the Miami backfield. James has 278 yards and three touchdowns this season.

“It’s kind of like a lightning-lightning pretty much,” Lewis-Moore said. “They’re short guys but they’re not scared of taking it inside, between the tackles. We have to fundamentally sound across the board.”

The Irish are the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision that has not allowed a rushing touchdown. Notre Dame also has not given up a play of more than 50 yards.

 

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu