Florida Gators: Al Golden

Johnson gives Miami advantage at RB

September, 5, 2013
Miami has one clear advantage over No. 12 Florida in their matchup Saturday: a proven star-caliber running back.

Duke Johnson gives the Hurricanes a marquee name at the position, continuing a tradition that dates back to the 1980s. Florida, on the other hand, has not had a national standout at running back since Fred Taylor in 1998.

Although it is true Mike Gillislee had a 1,000-yard season for the Gators last year -- the school's first since 2004 -- you would be hard pressed to find anybody outside the state who could name him.

For Florida, it has been a constant battle to find a consistent running back. There have been a few since Taylor left: Earnest Graham, Ciatrick Fason, DeShawn Wynn.

But in the years after Wynn, quarterback Tim Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin made the running game go. Backs such as Kestahn Moore and Emmanuel Moody merely served as window dressing.

Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were not big backs, but coach Will Muschamp and former coach Urban Meyer tried to get a lot out of them. They were simply never big enough to truly carry the load.

The Gators, however, do have hope that they have a guy in Matt Jones who can reverse the recent trend and become a heralded standout. Jones makes his debut this weekend for the Gators, after missing last week with a viral infection. He could end up doing what Johnson has done for Miami.

The Hurricanes have a proud running back tradition, with eight backs drafted in the first four rounds since 1990. But they did not have much in the way of a marquee national player before Johnson, either. Between 2003 and 2012, Miami had only one 1,000-yard back: Lamar Miller in 2011.

Johnson came close to 1,000 yards last year, splitting time with Mike James while earning acclaim as one of the top freshmen in the country. He opened the season against FAU last week with 186 yards -- the highest rushing total in the entire nation in Week 1. He even picked up a vote in the ESPN.com Heisman Watch.

Florida recruited Johnson out of high school. Muschamp calls him a complete back.

"You have to be disciplined in your gaps. He's a guy who can take the ball anywhere," Muschamp said.

Indeed, the most intriguing matchup in this game is between Johnson and the Gators' defense, a formidable group against the run.

Consider this stat from ESPN Stats & Information: The Gators have given up just two rushes of 50-plus yards in the past 10 seasons, three fewer than any other team in FBS. Johnson, meanwhile, has six runs of 50 or more yards. None of those runs, however, came against a top rush defense. Against the top two defenses Miami played last year -- Florida State and Notre Dame -- Johnson went for a long of 7 yards.

"It’s going to be a great challenge. They’re big, physical up front," Miami coach Al Golden said. "It’s a great defense. It’s a very talented defense, and they play a lot of guys. It’s a great challenge for our offense -- our offensive line, our tight ends, our fullback. But it’s a great opportunity."

Here is a look at the leading rushers for Miami and Florida since 2002:


2012 Duke Johnson

2011 Lamar Miller

2010 Damien Berry

2007-09 Graig Cooper

2006 Javarris James

2005 Tyrone Moss

2004 Frank Gore

2003 Jarrett Payton

2002 Willis McGahee


2012 Mike Gillislee

2011 Chris Rainey

2010 Jeff Demps

2007-09 Tim Tebow

2005-06 DeShawn Wynn

2004 Ciatrick Fason

2003 Ran Carthon

2002 Earnest Graham
No. 12 Florida went bare bones against Toledo in the season opener this past weekend, and not just because of its handful of players suspended for the game. The Gators knew they'd win easily, so why show their hand with an important trip to Miami the following week? If the Hurricanes were looking for something to game-plan for, it wasn't going to be found in the tape against Toledo. UF coach Will Muschamp didn't give anything away, going vanilla on offense and a flavor closer to cardboard on defense.

The 24-6 win over the Rockets lacked the panache many fans were hoping for, but that was by design. All in all, the game was a victory for the coaching staff: Jeff Driskel was decisive under center, completing 17 of 22 passes with no interceptions; the running game was effective in spite of Matt Jones' absence; quality depth emerged on both sides of the football; and the defense did its job against a high-paced Toledo offense, limiting the Rockets to 3.8 yards per play and no touchdowns.

Against the Hurricanes, the Gators will have to do more. Playing vanilla worked in Week 1, but it won't in Week 2. Miami might be unranked in the AP poll, but coach Al Golden has his team knocking at the door.

"Certainly they know it's an important game for the University of Florida," Muschamp said on Wednesday, speaking to the rivalry between the two in-state schools. "We talk about it all the time. Our players understand the importance of the game. ... Any time they play against guys they know and are familiar with, it's obviously very important."

Miami will test Florida's ability to stop the run on Saturday with its stout, veteran offensive line and a tailback many consider to be among the best sophomores at his position. Duke Johnson, a first-team All-ACC choice this preseason, was third in the conference in rushing last year with 947 yards on the ground. He'll have a slew of talented linemen blocking ahead of him with Brandon Linder, Malcolm Bunche and Seantrel Henderson clearing the way.

"You have to be disciplined in your gaps," Muschamp explained. "He is a guy that can take the ball anywhere. They do a nice job of showing the stretch look and him cutting the ball back and heading north and south.

"He is an extremely tough and competitive guy. We recruited him. ... He catches the ball well, he protects. He's a complete back."

Florida should feel confident on defense, though, with as talented and deep a group of athletes as any in the SEC. Getting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison back from suspension should help slow Johnson. And cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will return from his one-game suspension to give the Gators an anchor in the secondary against Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, whose 160 passing yards against FAU in the season opener put him over the 5,000-yard mark for his career.

Rather, what the Gators do on offense could determine the outcome of this game. All offseason we've heard how offensive coordinator Brent Pease would open up the playbook and bring more production to Florida's attack. Against Miami, we'll get to see if those words can be put into action.

Florida has the skill and depth at running back to control the tempo with Jones healthy once again and Mack Brown helping shoulder the load. But Driskel, who is now into his second year starting in the system, must make smart decisions with the football. He fumbled the ball twice against Toledo and has a history of poor pocket awareness. He can a Miami defense that had five sacks in its opener to come at him ready to knock the ball loose on Saturday.

"We're going to miss a block here and there," Driskel told reporters in Gainesville this week, "but I have to take care of the ball."

In a rivalry games like this, turnovers are everything. Limiting takeaways and sustaining momentum will be vital for Florida to walk away with a win. If the Gators try to do too much and give the ball away, the results could be disastrous.

The Early Offer: Florida’s best meet 

September, 4, 2013
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Plenty of elite talent will be on hand for Saturday’s Florida-Miami game, but Will Muschamp knows it’ll take more than one Saturday to make a difference; Virginia, Virginia Tech and Ohio State recruits showcased on national broadcast, and 2016 running back target Robert Washington taking a national tour this fall.

Sunshine State showdown
Everybody who is anybody in the Florida recruiting world will be at Saturday’s Florida-Miami game. Miami is going to have a large group of visitors, including ESPN 300 prospects Dalvin Cook, Joe Yearby, Travis Rudolph, KC McDermott and Anthony Moten. The Canes will also be hosting four-star receiver Braxton Berrios on an official visit. Berrios was at Oregon this past weekend, and UM is right in the thick of things with him. Miami will also host Torrance Gibson, Jordan Scarlett, Devante Peete, Devonarie Clarington and CeCe Jefferson, who all rank in the top 10 of Florida for the 2015 class. While the game and atmosphere certainly will make an impression, Florida coach Will Muschamp knows it will take more than that to reel in the elite players. “I would hope that a recruit isn’t making a decision about where they go to school on who wins a specific game,” Muschamp said. “While a recruit might have an emotional swing, based on the outcome of any game, they should consider what the best fit is for them academically, athletically, socially and for their future. We feel strongly that what we have to offer there is bigger than just one Saturday.”
ESPN Watch List offensive tackle Kc McDermott (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central) made it official: He's staying home for college.

The 6-foot-6, 297-pound lineman had narrowed his choices to Miami (Fla.) and Notre Dame before Tuesday. And early last week there were some reports that he had chosen the Hurricanes.

But it's official now. He committed to Miami and coach Al Golden during a news conference at his school. Palm Beach Central coach Rod Harris said McDermott's decision was a tough one.

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