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Thursday, January 3
Updated: January 4, 4:05 AM ET
Johnson finally lives up to potential

By Bruce Feldman
ESPN The Magazine

PASADENA, Calif. -- The joke around the Miami receivers this week was that the real reason the Nebraska defense was dubbed the Blackshirts is because their DBs are so susceptible to getting burned. But, the Hurricane wideouts weren't gonna do any pregame yapping this week. They just sat back and listened -- and surfed.

"We heard about what they were saying on the Internet," says UM receiver Kevin Beard, "about how we were the weak link on our team."

Andre Johnson
Miami's Andre Johnson blew by the Nebraska secondary en route to a 199 yard, 2 TD game.
"All week they talked about the Virginia Tech game, about how we had the dropsies," says Miami WR Daryl Jones. "They said they were gonna load nine men in the box. 'Well, go 'head then, we thought. Pick you poison.'"

Apparently, the 'Huskers did and it came in the form of a lethal dose of Andre Johnson, UM's budding -- but not brooding -- version of Terrell Owens. The soft-spoken 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore wideout simply mauled Nebraska corners every time they tried to jam him on the line, turning their bump-and-run into bump-and-tumble.

Johnson set the tone for the night with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter when he flicked CB Keyou Craver, a sturdy 6-1, 190-pound senior to the turf with one hand at the line of scrimmage, blew up field and hauled in a 49-yard TD reception.

"It was a matter of him grabbing me and pulling me down," Craver said. "He was doing that, but I'm not making excuses. He is a big strong, really physical receiver -- the most physical receiver I played this year -- and he got the best of me."

Johnson got the best of Nebraska's other corner, DeJuan Groce, too, rag-dolling him at will. Before the first half was over, the Miami native had piled up five catches for 160 yards and two TDs.

"Man, I was thinking 'this is too easy,'" Johnson admitted after the game. "They played like they were laid back or something."

Eventually, they started giving Johnson a 10-yard cushion just so he couldn't get his mitts on the 'Husker DBs. But by then, the Big Red was toast, and the game was long over. Johnson finished with 7 catches for 199 yards and two TDs. It was exactly the type of performance Miami coaches have been expecting from Johnson from the day he arrived at UM in 1999, when they marvelled at a dude with Michael Irvin's frame and physical strength and Santana Moss' wheels. But until Thursday night, big AJ -- the laid-back guy with the wallflower personality -- never showed the spirit to be a game-breaker.

"This is a guy who can take over a game whenever he wants to," says receivers coach Curtis Johnson. "I just gotta get him to do it more often. I gotta stay on him to do it every week, but this kid is special. He's in the class of athlete with Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk. He's got that kind of talent. Did you see what he did on that first touchdown? Man, he just manhandled that young man and threw him out of the way."

Johnson just flashed a half-smile as he watched the last 15 seconds tick off the clock. "I felt like I had something to prove," he said as he pulled a Miami National Champions hat tight, down to the bridge of his nose. "We all did."

Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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