Can Morris And Johnson Bring Miami Back?
By Ryan Lacey
Quarterback Stephen Morris and tailback Duke Johnson have given Miami fans hope that the 10-year malaise since the Hurricanes’ last BCS appearance in 2003 is close to being lifted. If both can deliver Heisman-type seasons, they could lead Miami to its first ACC title in school history.
Can two players make such a difference?
Morris is a smart decision-maker who rarely puts the ball up for grabs (let’s call him the anti-Harris). Regression is coming his way, however, and that has already been visible in 2013. Although he was a victim of drops in the opener vs. Florida Atlantic, he completed just 55 percent of his throws with his first interception in 156 attempts. With the Gators coming to town Saturday, he will have to lift his game to prove he is an elite quarterback.
Johnson is a special talent who can be compared to Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas — a home run threat whenever he touches the ball. In Miami’s win over the Owls, Johnson tallied 186 yards on 19 carries — both career highs. The biggest question this offseason was regarding whether or not he could carry the load of an every-down back given his stature. Initial returns are positive.
It’s also not important to forget this duo has the benefit of one of the best offensive lines in the country. The group of Jon Feliciano, Brandon Linder, Shane McDermott, Malcom Bunch and Seantrel Henderson averages 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds and all have tremendous experience. Morris gets plenty of time to throw and Johnson gets to run behind a fantastic group. These guys deserve a lot of the credit for how powerful the offense was in 2012.
Miami’s outlook is pretty clear for 2013. They will be one of four teams in the Coastal Division that can make it to Charlotte for the conference title game, and likely will be heavy underdogs to the team that comes out of the Atlantic Division. Does that qualify as back? Miami has only won more than seven games once since 2005.
How the Hurricanes fare in 2014 is cloudy. Ryan Williams won’t wow anyone with his skill set, and Kevin Olsen appears to be a year away. Thanks to Johnson playing as a true freshman in 2011, he will be around to lead the offense for a third straight season. How much will a quarterback change affect Miami going forward?
Hurricanes fans don’t have to look farther than their own team to realize a QB-RB combo won’t solely guarantee success. First off, running backs grow on trees in South Florida, so despite the outstanding spark Johnson has given the Hurricanes, it is safe to assume more game-changing backs are going to come down the pike. Furthermore, Miami hasn’t had a game-changer at quarterback in at least 20 years. During the Butch Davis era, game managers like Ken Dorsey were under center. A game-changer at quarterback would be nice, but it’s not necessary.
The dynasty that is currently ruling the college football landscape proves this point. Alabama has built an empire on a ferocious defense and a pair of game managers (Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron) at quarterback. While McCarron is beginning to shed that title, his production would be different if he was on an average team.
It’s far too early to grade the performance of this defensive class, but the key to how far Miami can go in the next few seasons is entirely based on how the defense performs. If this young group can continue to develop and improve, big things could be around the corner. Initial returns don’t appear positive, but head coach Al Golden’s ability to recruit top-notch talent should pay off down the line.
It’s going to take more than a quarterback and running back to bring the ‘Canes back to prominence.