No. 2 Florida State eyes Miami's Duke Johnson
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Miami running back Duke Johnson circled Saturday's home game against rival Florida State on the calendar over a year ago, when his season ended with a broken ankle on the turf in Tallahassee.
Johnson finished 2013 just shy of 1,000 yards rushing in eight games and has blown by that mark in 2014. The 5-foot-9, 206-pound junior ranks No. 8 in the country with 1,213 yards and remains the centerpiece of a Hurricanes team that dropped 4 of 5 games after Johnson was lost last year.
The second-ranked Seminoles (9-0, 6-0 ACC, No. 3 CFP) know who must be stopped to extend their school-record win streak to 26 games.
''Once he makes a cut and gets through a gap, you can pretty much kiss the baby. He's going to be gone.''
The Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2) have run on 56.1 percent of their offensive snaps with a freshman, Brad Kaaya, who's still growing at quarterback. Johnson brings a speed-strength combination that had Florida State players struggling to find a comparison. And this is a team that last year faced Auburn's Tre Mason and Boston College's Andre Williams - both in the NFL now.
''Duke is a lot stronger than he was the previous two years,'' Miami coach Al Golden said. ''So he is faster. He's always been quick and has an excellent lateral cut. He's running behind his pads better, and he has the ability to use a stiff arm at the second level or make you miss.''
The Florida State front seven understand there's a heavier load to carry this week. The run defense ranks No. 35 in the country and has allowed 135.7 yards per game. Louisville running back Michael Dyer gashed the Seminoles for 134 yards and Notre Dame's Tarean Folston put up 120.
Florida State has been without one of its best run-stoppers in nose guard Niles Lawrence-Stample since he tore a pectoral muscle in September. The coaching staff has moved starters around up front looking for the best combination, but coach Jimbo Fisher thinks the unit has begun to hit its stride with a mixture of young players gaining more experience and Edwards and the linebackers getting healthier.
''Their thing is running, man,'' Edwards said. ''We have to stop the run and then make it one dimensional. They're definitely good with position blocking. They want to get in front of you, turn you, get you where Duke can cut off them and make a play.''
The Miami offense is in its best stretch of the season with 132 points scored in the last three games. Johnson's fingerprints have been all over those wins with 588 yards rushing, though Kaaya also threw for seven touchdowns without an interception. The growth of the young quarterback and his receivers has diversified the offense.
''I still think they're going to run the ball with Duke and be physical,'' Fisher said. ''But they create the play actions off of it and they definitely loosen the reins on him because they've got great playmakers outside and the tight end.
''So you see him really grind. ... When you get to him he's able to absorb the blitz, give ground, make some unbelievable throws. I think he's going to be a really good player and I think he's playing good right now.''
The Florida State defense has yet to put together a stellar 60 minutes, but there should be no lack of motivation after the Seminoles were dropped to No. 3 by the College Football Playoff selection committee despite their undefeated record. Johnson has heard the talk about how vulnerable FSU is, but he's not buying it.
''You can say what you want about them: `They had a team last year. They're not this. They're not that,''' Johnson said. ''At the end, they find a way to win.''