Throughout the history of the Miami Hurricanes, there are more than a couple “what if” scenarios. What if the Canes didn’t lose the 2003 or 1986 Fiesta Bowl? What if Butch Davis stays at Miami? So many to choose from, and unfortunately, most of the time these scenarios bring up bad memories, but make for great debates.
One “what if” that isn’t talked about enough, what if Duke Johnson, the all-time leading rusher at Miami, what if he doesn’t get injured in 2013?
Before we talk about the possibilities to this question, let’s first take a look at the whole situation. In 2013, head coach Al Golden had his Hurricanes off and running, winning their first seven games of the season, including a week-two upset of the #12 Florida Gators. Heading into a week eight matchup with number-three Florida State, Miami was sitting at #7 in the polls.
A large part of the Hurricanes success to that point was their offense, as they were averaging 34.6 points per game through the first seven weeks. Miami’s biggest weapon on offense was sophomore running back Duke Johnson, the Dade County native who was already starting to establish himself as a superstar for the Canes.
In the first seven games, Johnson was averaging 117 rushing yards per week, and had reached the end zone six times. Johnson, along with quarterback Stephen Morris and receivers Allen Hurns and Herb Waters were quickly making the country take notice of UM once again.
However, against the eventual national champion Seminoles in Tallahassee in week eight, Johnson suffered a broken ankle in the fourth quarter, which only added insult to the 41-14 blowout loss to FSU.
Now, whether or not Johnson was injured that night wouldn’t have changed the outcome of that game, the Seminoles were still going to win, they were obviously the better team. That being said, the 2013 season has a much different ending if Johnson remains healthy.
First of all, the following week after the FSU loss, Miami hosted Virginia Tech back in South Florida. Without Johnson, the Canes fell to the Hokies, 42-24. In that game, Miami rushed for a total of 28 yards as a team, and averaged just 1.6 yards per carry. With Johnson not there to carry the load, Miami had to rely on Dallas Crawford and Gus Edwards, and they did very little against the Hokies defense. If Johnson is in that game and UM establishes a solid running attack, I think Miami comes out on top. I mean, just look at what Johnson did to the Hokies the following season in 2014.
The next game, Miami again fell short, this time to Duke on the road. In the 48-30 defeat, the favored Hurricanes were again held to under 100 yards rushing as a team. Crawford had over 100 yards by himself, but wasn’t able to carry the Canes offense in the second half. Make no mistake, the Blue Devils had a solid team this year, and eventually won the Coastal and played FSU in Charlotte, but if Johnson was on the field, you’d have to think that Miami comes out of Durham with a win.
Without Johnson, Miami still found a way to win their final two regular season games against Virginia and Pitt. However, if Duke is healthy, I say the Hurricanes beat the Hokies and Blue Devils, as well as UVA and Pitt, finish the regular season 11-1 and win the Coastal. While I don’t think they beat FSU in the ACC Championship Game, perhaps they accept the invitation to play Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in the Chick Fil-A Bowl, instead of Duke. Whether they win their bowl game or not, Miami finishes with at least 11 wins on the year, their most since 2003.
Let’s move on. Even after injuring his ankle in 2013, Johnson returned in 2014 and rushed for over 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns. Still, after a very impressive junior year, and leaving Miami as the schools all-time leading rusher, Johnson fell to the third round in the 2015 NFL Draft. Without his injury, you make can make a very strong argument to Johnson being drafted much earlier.
Another scenario, if Johnson isn’t injured, what are the chances he returns in 2015 for his senior season? While I still think he’d declare early after 2014, it’s definitely an interesting debate to have. A healthy Johnson as a senior, paired up with now sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, maybe Miami doesn't lose at home Cincinnati, or again to FSU on the road.
What are your thoughts?