MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – Before the season was 90 seconds old, Miami dropped an interception that would have been a sure-fire touchdown, committed a penalty on special teams and was flagged for delay of game prior to their first play from scrimmage.
So there was some rust.
None of it was on Duke Johnson.
Johnson had career-highs of 186 yards and 19 carries before departing in the third quarter, receiver Herb Waters took a pitch on an end-around for a 63-yard rushing score, and Miami beat Florida Atlantic 34-6 on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
“What did he total, about 240, 230, something like that,” Hurricanes coach Al Golden said of Johnson, who finished with 224 all-purpose yards on 20 touches when adding in his one catch for 38 yards. “That’s kind of what we need him to be, somewhere around there. I thought he did a good job with that. He’s healthy. He cut two guys down on that play where we scored, so again he’s a very unselfish player.”
Stephen Morris threw for 160 yards and another score for the Hurricanes, who play host to No. 10 Florida in a rivalry game next weekend. Dallas Crawford added a touchdown run for Miami, which racked up 303 yards on the ground but failed to convert 10 of 14 third-down chances.
“I’m happy about tonight,” Morris said. “There’s obviously a lot of things that we’ve got to improve on; third-down efficiency and things like that.”
Johnson left in the third quarter after getting shaken up while throwing a block on the play where Waters scored and was checked out on the Miami sideline to rule out a concussion, which is standard team protocol. He did not seem to need any treatment and even with much of the second half off, his was the highest rushing total by any Miami player since Tyrone Moss ran for 195 against North Carolina on Oct. 29, 2005.
“I’m fine,” Johnson said.
Mitch Anderson kicked two field goals for FAU, which is now 4-24 in its last 28 games. The Owls got into Miami territory on their final drive, then spiked the ball with 6 seconds left to stop the clock – with the slight problem there being it was already fourth down.
Miami out-gained FAU 503-250.
“I thought we battled,” said FAU coach Carl Pelini, who suspended five players – two starters – late this week because of violations of team rules. “We will learn from this game.”
Dozens of members of the 1983 Miami national championship team were at the game, as part of the Hurricanes’ 30th anniversary celebration of that title. Howard Schnellenberger coached that team, and started the Florida Atlantic program 15 years later, so the night had plenty of meaning for both sides.
“There is a great probability that Florida Atlantic University will not win, I’m advised by my friends in Reno and Las Vegas,” Schnellenberger said before the game, a nod to oddsmakers listing Miami as a 32-point favorite. “But if they play their best, fight the battle, measure up man-on-man, come out at the end of the game behind, they are not defeated.”
Miami got only three points out of its first three drives – highly touted freshman receiver Stacy Coley dropped two passes that would have been touchdowns – before Johnson got things really going for the Hurricanes with 13:03 left in the first half with a 53-yard touchdown run that gave his team a 10-0 lead.
It was 20-3 by halftime, after Morris found tight end Clive Walford for a score with 2 minutes left, but the Hurricanes turned the ball over on the first possession of the second half. Morris’ pass was intercepted by FAU’s Andrae Kirk, setting the Owls up at the Hurricanes’ 20.
That’s when Miami’s defense, maligned just about every week last season when the Hurricanes gave up more points than any team in school history, made a stand and held FAU to just a field goal.
And that was just about the last chance FAU had. Waters’ long run down the left sideline made it 27-6, and after Wisconsin transfer David Gilbert recovered a fumble deep in FAU territory for the Hurricanes, Crawford plowed in to extend Miami’s lead to four touchdowns.
“I thought we played really hard,” Golden said. “I thought Florida Atlantic played incredibly tough.”
Friday night marked the start of a stretch where the Owls will play five of their first six contests on the road, although this game was a mere 35 miles south of FAU’s campus and in the same stadium the program originally called home. FAU’s first game was Sept. 1, 2001 at the building now called Sun Life Stadium, a 40-7 loss to Slippery Rock, and just as he did when he was with the Hurricanes, Schnellenberger insisted better days would soon be coming.
He was right. By 2003, the Owls were in the Division I-AA national semifinals.
In 2007 and 2008, after making the jump to college football’s highest level, they won bowl games. An on-campus home stadium was eventually opened. But the good times didn’t last and the Owls are now in an all-out rebuilding phase, having lost 14 of their last 28 games by at least 20 points.