DURHAM, N.C. — Hamstring injury or not, it’s not a particularly good idea to let one, single defender cover Ahmmon Richards.
Duke learned the hard way.
“They have a really good corner,” Richards said, referring to senior Bryon Fields. “They felt confident in his game. Our coaches felt confident in mine.”
Advantage: Miami, after a three-catch, 106-yard, one-touchdown performance by the sophomore in a 31-6 win on Friday. Richards, the former freshman All-American, made his season debut after a hamstring strain knocked him out of action the last month and a half.
His season stats, as of now, include a 35.3 yards-per-catch average, and 100 percent confidence in his health.
“I felt good,” he said. “It hurt a little bit toward the end, but I’m fine. You score a touchdown, it makes everything feel better.”
His first two looks came up the sideline. In man-to-man coverage, he roasted two defenders on sideline grabs, gaining 29 and 28 yards, tapping his toes to stay in bounds.
His touchdown certainly made Miami feel better, given that his 49-yard score came with Miami seemingly treading water.
The Hurricanes were up 17-6 on the road, early in the fourth quarter, to a team that kept forcing punts. Richards erased all that by snatching a shallow cross, with Duke blitzing and leaving the middle of the field wide-open.
That, according to quarterback Malik Rosier, came from a coaching adjustment that worked. On a blitz in the first half, Rosier thought he had Mark Walton open in the flat for a “hot” throw (i.e., a quick, blitz-beating pass). Duke surprised Miami by covering the flat with a defensive end, who swallowed Walton and nearly caused a fumble.
“It was a great defensive call,” Rosier said. “We talked it over. We figured it out. That’s the thing this offense is so good at now is adjusting on the fly, figuring out what they’re doing, and making the right calls.”
The next time Duke brought that particular blitz, Rosier said, he had Richards cutting toward the middle. The ball came in-stride. Richards left his defender, angled his way past the secondary and skipped out of a tackle attempt on his way to the end zone.
“It’s huge for us as an offense,” senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios said of Richards’ impact. That may be an understatement.
Richards said he’ll “most definitely” treat the hamstring for the rest of the season, hoping it won’t bother him again. The last time he sat out this long, he was a freshman at Wellington High. A concussion sidelined him for several weeks.
“Not being able to run, it was hard,” he said. “I just tried to stay focused. Minor setback.”