The Miami Hurricanes were trailing, senior quarterback Stephen Morris was struggling and superstar Duke Johnson was in the locker room.
But little-known sophomore running back Dallas Crawford stepped up, saved the Hurricanes' perfect season and led the team to a 27-23 victory over North Carolina.
After Johnson exited due to a head injury, the second-string running back—who had just 31 career prior rushing attempts—came up clutch. Crawford ran for 145 yards on 33 carries and scored the 'Canes' final two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
What many don't know, however, is that Crawford has been an essential part of this Miami team over the past three seasons—even if he didn't make national headlines until recently.
How Did He Get to Miami?
A teammate of current star Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Crawford played quarterback and defensive back at South Fort Myers High School, and 247Sports ranked him as the 156th-best prospect in the 2011 class.
According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, Crawford set a Lee County record, throwing for 8,451 yards. He tossed 83 passing touchdowns while running for 1,050 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Crawford's profile on the Miami athletics website notes he intercepted a school-record 23 passes during his high school career, including leading the state with 10 picks as a junior and also returning four of the interceptions for a touchdown.
During his senior season, Crawford notched 76 tackles, nine interceptions and three forced fumbles. He soon decided on his next-level destination, choosing from a list of—among others—Miami, Michigan, West Virginia, Iowa, Georgia Tech and, wait for it, North Carolina.
Crawford—like Miami kicker Matt Goudis—was once committed to Rich Rodriguez at the University of Michigan. But after Rich Rod's firing, Crawford flipped to Miami and became a part of Al Golden's first recruiting class at "The U."
What Has He Done for the Hurricanes?
Everyone loves to look at glamorous stats and see highlight-reel plays, but Crawford made a name for himself doing the dirty work.
Crawford redshirted during his first year on campus, but he was named Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year.
Crawford spent the majority of his time playing defensive back before moving to running back for the first time in his career. Christopher Stock of 247Sports (subscription required) notes Golden noticed the versatile player through his scout-team performance and gave Crawford an opportunity to show his offensive skills.
Dallas did such a great job on scout team this year so we kept saying, 'maybe we need to take a look at him.' ...So if you’re going to take a look at him, then do it in the spring. We know we can always move him back to DB.
A regular on special teams as a redshirt freshman, Crawford snagged an interception on a fake punt. He tallied a career-high three tackles against both Virginia and Duke, managing 10 tackles on the season.
Crawford also emulated Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington as the scout-team quarterback, preparing the Miami defense for the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack.
But he didn't complain about his limited role; Crawford focused on the ultimate goal, telling Miller Degnan, "I don’t care if I don’t get any [carries], as long as we win. That’s all I care about."
Crawford, in fact, only carried the ball six times—all of which came during the 'Canes final two games—and managed 23 yards. Additionally, he threw two passes on trick plays, completing one to Phillip Dorsett for a 29-yard gain.
This season, as Duke's main backup, Crawford had gained 125 yards on 25 attempts—a perfect 5.0-yard per carry average before his breakout game against the Tar Heels.
Early in October, Miller Degnan noted Johnson's compliment of his fellow running back.
Dallas is a hard-working guy that was just waiting for his chance to play. ...He’s doing a great job. He’s a tough runner for his size. He doesn’t go down on first contact. He trusts his eyes.
Most notably, Crawford has occupied the all-important role of goal-line specialist and was leading the team with eight total touchdowns (seven rushing, one receiving). Then, of course, Crawford played a fantastic game last Thursday and boosted his total to 10 scores through six games.
What to Expect from Crawford
Crawford has most certainly earned a larger role in the Hurricanes offense.
Duke Johnson suffered injury scares against Florida Atlantic, Florida and Savannah State. Then, Duke lost three fumbles over the next two games (South Florida and Georgia Tech). Lastly, he left the North Carolina game early due to migraines.
Johnson has been extremely productive while on the field, but he's had his fair share of difficulties. Crawford proved he can carry the load, so consistently Duke getting a possession or two off will be beneficial for the Miami rushing attack.
Looking further ahead, highly touted running back Joseph Yearby and speedster Brandon Powell arrive on campus next season. Senior Eduardo Clements will have graduated, so Crawford will battle the local high-school studs for the second-string job.
But with a strong continued effort this season, Crawford will have a leg up on the pair of youngsters and complement Duke Johnson for another year.