Hankerson keeps Canes alive in Death Valley

Linebacker Colin McCarthy and safety Vaughn Telemaque give each other high fives after their defense kept the Hurricanes strong against the Tigers. Daniel Osiason//The Miami Hurricane

When an offensive play was needed for the No. 13 Miami Hurricanes, senior captain Leonard Hankerson was the answer.

The defense was stellar, totaling six takeaways, and senior kicker Matt Bosher was clutch as usual. Hankerson, however, was the  real story as the Hurricanes (3-1, 1-0) defeated Clemson (2-2, 0-1) 30-21 in Death Valley Saturday afternoon.

“That was a huge ACC first victory for us,” head coach Randy Shannon said. “I’m very excited about the way this team performed. We’ve come a long way. We came on the road in a hostile environment, played hard offensively and defensively.”

Hankerson became the first Hurricane receiver to tabulate three touchdowns in one game since Santana Moss had three touchdowns receptions against Rutgers in 1998.

“It’s a great feeling but the season is not over yet,” Hankerson said. “We just wanted to come out, make plays so we could get going.”

On the Hurricanes’ second drive, redshirt freshman Lamar Miller found the end zone but was negated by a Hankerson holding penalty. That was his only blemish of the day.

Hankerson had touchdown grabs for 22, 65 and seven yards and finished with seven catches for 147 yards.

“In film we saw some key mistakes they made in their previous games that we knew we [would] have a shot at,” Hankerson said. “That’s what we did, we capitalized.”

Right after an interception from sophomore safety Ray-Ray Armstrong at the end of the first half, Hankerson scored his third touchdown on a slant route.

The play was designed to go to junior wide receiver Aldarius Johnson on a corner route in the back of the end zone but Johnson was doubled covered. Harris then hit his check-down, Hankerson, across the middle for a seven-yard touchdown to go into halftime with a 27-14 lead.

“Hank is a leader all around,” said Damien Berry, who had 101 rushing yards on 24 carries. “Anytime he has a chance to shine and you have to get him the ball. He had an all around total game.”

So far it looks like Hankerson made the right move returning for his senior year. He has already matched his touchdown total (six) from all of last season. Hankerson is averaging 97 yards a game and 17 yards per catch.

“If he didn’t have a drop, I’m OK with him,” Shannon joked. “But Hankerson has always been the guy. He has worked hard. He has the confidence. Hank has been through a lot and that has made him mentally tough.”

According to Shannon, Hankerson has always been one of his favorite players. The coach personally recruited him from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale. Shannon has always stressed to Hankerson the importance of being a team player.

“Last week he didn’t get much action,” due to Hankerson being double teamed against Pittsburgh, Shannon said. “This week he made some really, really great catches in traffic which was huge for us.”

Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at lledoux@themiamihurricane.com.