CORAL GABLES — Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson are heading into this season as perhaps one of the nation’s top quarterback-running back duos, and the biggest reasons why Miami is a popular pick to contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
Unless the Hurricanes’ defense is much improved, Morris and Johnson might have to be great for their team to have a chance.
Morris passed for 3,345 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, then got a good amount of attention this summer by excelling at the Manning camp, winning the skills competition there. And Johnson’s freshman year saw him pile up 2,070 all-purpose yards, mostly on rushes and kickoff returns, where his big-play ability was regularly displayed.
“These guys have the makeup to be pretty good,” said new Miami offensive coordinator James Coley, who was at Florida State last season.
So the Hurricanes can run, catch and return the ball. There isn’t much question there.
There are huge questions, however, on whether Miami — which opens the season tonight against Florida Atlantic — can stop anyone.
Miami’s defense set a slew of records a year ago, all of them bad. By wide margins, the Hurricanes gave up more points and more yards last season than any team in Miami history, and those numbers — 366 points, 5,837 yards allowed — surely would have been higher if the school hadn’t declined chances to play in the ACC title game and a bowl. Miami sat out its second straight postseason, self-imposing another ban because of an NCAA investigation.
“Last year, we had a lot of new guys and guys at different spots,” defensive lineman Olsen Pierre said. “This year, I feel like we are a better group. ... We all got bigger together so we could go all-out and attack and make that wall for no running backs, fullbacks or anything to get past us.”
Optimism seems higher than it has been around Miami in either of coach Al Golden’s first two seasons with the Hurricanes, and his team — with most of its starters back from the club that would have been declared Coastal Division champions last year if not for the postseason ban — should be poised to win more than seven games for the first time since 2009.
“We have the right guys on the train,” Golden said. “I think the guys that are on the train have excellent leadership and, if they’re not the leader, they’re being really good teammates. I keep saying it, I have some trepidation no matter what because we have a long way to go as an organization, but we’re moving in the right direction.”