CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Mike James has had a less-than-glamorous role for much of his career in the Miami backfield. He's the guy the Hurricanes have often asked to get the hardest of yards, the something-and-short situations, the plays where multiple opponents will be involved in the inevitable collisions somewhere around the line of scrimmage.
Last weekend, James had his moment to shine.
And a breakthrough win for the Hurricanes may go down as a breakout game for the senior running back.
James had career-highs in carries (15), yards (89), rushing touchdowns (three) and total touchdowns (four) in Miami's wild 42-36 overtime win over Georgia Tech, a game where the Hurricanes scored the first 19 points, then allowed 36 in a row, and somehow rallied to score the final 23 points of the day.
Entering Saturday, the 42nd game of his college career, James never had a rushing touchdown of more than seven yards. He more than doubled that twice against Georgia Tech alone, first with a 15-yarder to get Miami within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, then a 25-yard carry around the left side to win it in overtime.
"It's always a good moment to break away from the defense and really take advantage of the defense," said James, whose average touchdown run was 2.5 yards before Saturday's outburst. "I enjoyed it. I thought I ran well. I did some things well and I thought the coaches did the great job of putting us in positions to do well, and I'm just happy that I was able to take advantage of the situation."
He was hardly the only hero for Miami last weekend.
James had four touchdowns and Stephen Morris passed for 436 yards — and they weren't even among the Miami players honored with player-of-the-week awards by the Atlantic Coast Conference on Monday, those honors going to receiver Phillip Dorsett (184 yards on nine catches, both career-highs) and linebacker Eddie Johnson (a fourth-down tackle at the Miami 2 in overtime to stop Georgia Tech).
"That's what our team is about," James said. "The playmakers made plays, and everybody just stepped up and did a part to win the game. No single person can take credit for the wins we got. It's all been a team-effort, team-driven."
James was among the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision players across the country honored last week by Allstate for his commitment to community service while maintaining a strong academic standing.
He was surprised with that award. Friends of his weren't surprised to see his big game, however.
"I know what he can do with the ball," said former Miami back Lamar Miller, a three-year teammate of James with the Hurricanes and now a rookie with the Miami Dolphins. "So I wasn't surprised when he broke those two long runs."
By Monday afternoon, James was already leery of talking too much about what the Hurricanes did against Georgia Tech. In strict accordance with Miami's 24-hour rule — the mandate is for outcomes to be forgotten about in 24 hours, win or lose — James said his mind was already on this Saturday when the Hurricanes (3-1, 2-0 ACC) will host North Carolina State (3-1, 0-0).
It's only fair that the Hurricanes had moved on to the Wolfpack, since they, in turn, were already thinking about Miami on Monday, with coach Tom O'Brien raving about the Miami backfield combination of James and freshman Duke Johnson.
"Typical Miami," O'Brien said. "Great speed, great athleticism, change of direction, power, explosiveness. The tailbacks, James and Johnson, guys in their offense, if they get the football, they can go all the way with it, so you've got to tackle them and you've got to get them on the ground."
Here's how good James was last weekend: Johnson had 200 more all-purpose yards, and almost seemed to be having a quiet afternoon.
Sure, Johnson is leading the nation by averaging 209.5 all-purpose yards per game. But the Hurricanes were hoping for a day like the one James had against Georgia Tech, if for no other reason than it should keep opponents guessing.
"I think we have a great running back duo," Morris said. "We can send in Mike and Duke at the same time, and really have defenses on their heels. They won't know what we're going to do."
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