Miami offense will test Gators


Miami running back Duke Johnson ran for a career-high 183 yards in the Hurricanes' opener. (The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 3:42 p.m.

Toledo's multiple, up-tempo offense provided a nice first test for a Florida defense replacing seven starters.

Now, the challenge grows bigger. Much bigger. And certainly more complicated.

The Florida defense, which looked so strong and stable in the opener, should have a better idea about its 2013 identity after going against Miami's potent, playmaking offense Saturday in Miami Gardens.

“It's a very good challenge,” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Wednesday. “This is a dynamic offense we're facing. They're talented all across the board, at the skill positions and also up front.

“It will be a great test for us. We've got young guys playing. It's their first road game. All that goes into it as well, learning how to travel and make it a business trip and take care of your business.

“So, we'll find out a lot about our guys. And I'm excited to see it. I think they'll respond well.”

Miami's offense presents a multi-layered challenge. Kind of the SAT of college football tests.

The Hurricanes have one of the nation's most proficient pro-style quarterbacks in senior Stephen Morris, who threw for 3,345 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2012.

They have one of college football's most explosive tailbacks in Duke Johnson, a true sophomore who has already rushed for 1,133 yards and 11 touchdowns in his young UM career. He's coming off a 186-yard rushing performance against Florida Atlantic.

They have a group of fast, playmaking receivers.

They have an experienced front.

They have rolled up more than 500 yards of total offense in each of their last three games, dating back to last season.

It all adds up to a big-time challenge, one that will help the Gators gauge where they stand defensively entering SEC play in a few weeks.

“They have a really good quarterback with a great arm and really good receivers,” UF junior safety Cody Riggs said. “They have a lot of speed and a great running back. We have our hands full.

“They're very explosive and they have a lot of playmakers. We have to control the big plays they are looking for."

UM's biggest playmaker of all is Johnson, who seems to have a lot of Percy Harvin qualities about him.

UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Johnson is a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field.

“That guy can put his foot in the ground and change the score on any down,” Durkin said. “He's a fast guy, a great change of direction. He has great running back skills. He finishes runs, he's physical, he runs inside the tackles really well.

“It's not like he's just a perimeter guy. He's a complete back. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He's the total package.”

UF's defensive priority will be to try and contain Johnson and keep him from making big, game-changing plays, something he already has a reputation for doing.

“You make sure you know where he's at on the field, and it's a team effort,” Durkin said. “It takes 11 guys.

“We understand what we're up against with him, and he's a point of emphasis. That's a guy they're going to get the ball in his hands. It's got to be a team effort and everyone doing their job.”

Compounding the challenge is the fact it's hard to gang up against the run because Morris and the 'Canes are so productive in the downfield passing game. UM has the kind of balance that is tough to defend.

Morris threw for only 160 yards against FAU, but had two potential touchdowns dropped.

“He's a really talented quarterback,” Durkin said. “That guy can make all the throws. He manages the game really well. He looks really comfortable in terms of calling the offense and what they're doing. It's a big challenge for us, absolutely.”

Morris has plenty of options in the passing game. UM's receiver group is deep, talented and tested, led by junior Phillip Dorsett (74 career receptions for 1,000 yards) and senior Allen Hurns.

Florida plays a lot of man-to-man coverage in the secondary, so winning one-on-one battles is going to be crucial.

“I mean, against any team, I like our whole secondary over any receiver corps in the nation,” junior cornerback Marcus Roberson said.

Roberson probably likes it even better now that starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is back from his one-game suspension.

“Oh, it's really big (having him back),” Riggs said. “Loucheiz is a big part of our secondary and our chemistry. Having him back is really big for this game, especially with the weapons they have.

“It makes it a lot easier. Loucheiz can make a lot of plays. The chemistry, that's what makes it easier. Chemistry helps a lot.”

Chemistry.

It's just part of what figures to be a comprehensive test for the Florida defense Saturday.

“Definitely, all around, from the front to the back, from the D-line to the secondary,” Roberson said.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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