Florida vs. Miami: Can 'Canes RB Duke Johnson Find Success Against Gators D?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 5, 2013

Florida DL Dominique Easley
Florida DL Dominique EasleyKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest games of Week 2 includes the most interesting matchup of the young football season.

Miami's potent offense, led by star running back Duke Johnson, versus Florida's stingy defense.

It'll be strength versus strength at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida, and the winner in this critical battle will likely exit the stadium with a "W" in the win column.

Johnson rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown, as his Hurricanes rolled up 503 total yards on Florida Atlantic last week in a 34-6 win.

Yeah, it was Florida Atlantic, but take one look at his performance, and you'll see that the 5'9", 196-pounder has the size to be tough between the tackles and the speed to hit a home run if Florida blows an assignment or misses a tackle.

His Week 1 performance vaulted him into a tie for sixth on Bovada.lv's Heisman odds at 10-1, tied with Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and ahead of Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, Georgia's Todd Gurley and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.

That's some fine company he's keeping.

But Florida proved last week against Toledo that, despite some stars departing after last season, the 2013 Gators defense is fully capable of picking up the slack without issue.

The Rockets managed just 205 yards. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley had a tackle for loss, three quarterback hurries and generally took up real estate in the backfield all afternoon. Linebacker Ronald Powell looked the part of a superstar, making a sack and adding three quarterback hurries of his own in his first game action since the 2011 season.

The effort against the potent Rockets offense was impressive in and of itself, especially considering starting linebacker Antonio Morrison and starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy missed the game serving suspensions.

Gators head coach Will Muschamp commented on just how dangerous Johnson can be during his Monday press conference (via: GatorZone.com):

Duke Johnson is an outstanding player, we recruited him here, the guys’ got a great competitive nature to himself, he’s very similar to a Chris Rainey, bigger version of that; a guy that can full speed, one cut, get the ball vertical, makes people miss in space, runs hard and runs tough, he’s an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, he is an outstanding football player

Will the vaunted Gators defense shut down Johnson?

Not entirely. 

Johnson is a talented running back, and while the performance against the Rockets by the Gators defense was impressive, Toledo only attempted 16 running plays as opposed to 38 passing attempts. The Rockets were one-dimensional by choice and necessity, and everyone in the building knew it.

The 'Canes offer a much more balanced attack.

The trick for Florida will be to limit Johnson's ability to get those legs moving. That means Easley's not only going to have to make tackles, but penetrate the line of scrimmage and disrupt plays before they start. 

The Gators will be able to do it often, but one or two blown assignments or missed tackles can result in Johnson taking it to the house from anywhere on the field.

Only one running back has topped the century mark on the ground against Florida in the last 16 games, according to ESPN.com's Stats and Information (Georgia's Todd Gurley in 2012).  

Johnson will add his name to that list this weekend and give his team every opportunity to spring the upset over the visiting Gators.