It's been a long time coming.
Following two seasons of multiple games of more than 100 yards rushing while at Auburn from 2010-11, senior running back Michael Dyer hasn't come close to reaching the century mark since arriving in Louisville. His best performance as a Cardinal came on September 14, 2013, when he ran for 62 yards on 11 carries in a 27-13 win over Kentucky.
His time on the field has been very limited since due to a nagging injury that has slowed his progress during much of his U of L career.
After managing just 65 yards on 26 attempts in four previous appearances this season, the type of running that helped him earn the Offensive MVP Award from the 2010 BCS Championship has reappeared. It surfaced earlier in the week, continued with strong performances in all of the team practices and was vital in Louisville's 30-18 win over visiting N.C. State on Saturday.
“Michael Dyer, I thought played really well,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said during his post-game opening statement. “He got the start because of the way he practiced. We could tell in practice on Tuesday that his quickness is back, he's going full speed. He really worked hard at it then to be able to come out and have a great game is really good to see.”
His impact was immediate. During the Cardinals opening series touchdown drive, Dyer gained 21 yards on 4 carries, including a key 8 yard gain on 3rd and 3 at the Wolfpack 28 yard line.
His success on Saturday evening capped not only a stellar week of practice, but it also brought a hopeful end to what has been a lengthy and frustrating wait.
“I think he's really battled the injury,” Petrino explained. “He's worked hard at it. It's frustrating for him, there's no question about that. We tried to get him in and get him some work in some of the games, but he just wasn't himself.”
“We were watching video on Tuesday night and every coach goes, 'ooh, that's a little bit different, that's a lot different.' He just kept working real hard. It's great to see him come out and have success when it took him a long time, really, to get back from it.”
The Little Rock, Ark., native finished with 173 yards – the third highest single-game total of his career – for a very impressive 7.2 yards per carry average. However, while he was a driving force for the offense throughout the game, the end zone seemed out of reach until the team's final offensive play of the game.
With U of L managing a safe 23-18 lead with 2:21 to play in the game, it appeared that Petrino was resigned to run out the clock and call it a night. Following a pair of token runs up the middle that netted negative yardage, Petrino called a timeout with 52 seconds remaining to play. Facing a 3rd and 12 at the N.C. State 46 yard line, Petrino seemed to play it safe again – a handoff to Dyer up the middle. This time however, Dyer never stopped running. Instead, he burst through an opening and raced to the end zone.
Quarterback Will Gardner described it as a moment that Dyer knew would happen before the night was complete.
“I told Michael on the sidelines, I said, 'man, you are running the ball good, I like the way you're running the ball. You've had big runs, but you just haven't had that finish yet,' and he said, 'I gotcha, I gotcha',” Gardner explained. “Last play of the game and he finished and it was exciting to see him do that.”
Click the video below for Petrino's comments on Dyer and the highlight finish.