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As All Precincts Report in, Miami Can Do the Math

November 10, 2002|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Riled-up Miami did a number on Tennessee at Neyland Stadium -- the final tally was 26-3 -- then sat back to reflect while other interesting figures rolled in on a frenetic football Saturday:

Oklahoma, for instance, which last week knocked Miami out of the top spot in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 21 weeks, lost to unranked Texas A&M at College Station.

Ohio State, which jumped over Miami last week for the No. 2 spot in the bowl championship series standings, needed a late touchdown to defeat Purdue.

In Knoxville, meanwhile, Miami rebounded from its amazing victory-streak "slump" with a resounding 23-point victory against a Tennessee team that had gone 65-3 in November games since 1985.

The victory should push the 9-0 Hurricanes back to No. 1 in both national polls and restore confidence to what had, strangely, become a shaky commodity -- Miami football.

While the BCS continues to spit out numbers, Miami continues to spit out opponents. Saturday's victory before 107,745 was the 31st in a row for the Hurricanes, tying the school for seventh place on the all-time list of major college winning streaks.

Yet, instead of considering its place in history, Miami has been left to answer questions about recent come-from-behind wins against West Virginia and Rutgers.

Also, what's wrong with the run defense?

"When you don't play well, the reporters start attacking you, and sometimes it's even your teammates," Miami tight end Kellen Winslow said. "We just needed to calm down and take care of business."

In Miami's mind, order has been restored. A few Hurricanes were admittedly miffed when the AP dropped them to No. 2 last week in the aftermath of a 25-point road win.

"To complain about a 42-17 win, that's beyond me," center Brett Romberg said.

Let the season play out, Coach Larry Coker kept telling his players.

Two weeks ago, there were eight unbeaten teams in Division I-A and a dozen doomsday scenarios involving schools getting decimal-pointed out of the national title game.

With four undefeated teams losing last weekend and two more -- Oklahoma and Bowling Green -- falling Saturday, Miami and Ohio State are the only two left standing.

"Funny how things work out in college football," quarterback Ken Dorsey said.

When the fourth BCS standings are released Monday, Miami and Ohio State will assuredly be the top two teams -- destined for a Fiesta Bowl matchup provided both schools win out -- although the Buckeyes might still hold a slight statistical BCS edge over the Hurricanes.

Dorsey said he hasn't concerned himself with under-the-hood BCS details -- why, for instance, the New York Times' computer rankings had two-loss USC ranked No. 3 and Miami No. 4.

"I couldn't sit down for a week and figure that out," Dorsey said. "I'm no math major. But we had a general understanding, along with the rest of the nation, that the only time the BCS matters is the end of the season."

Tennessee, admittedly, was a wounded brigade. Twelve Volunteer starters had missed a combined 37 starts and by the end of the game quarterback Casey Clausen was on the bench with a head injury.

Still, winning in Knoxville in November -- a rare parlay -- ought to remove doubt as to whether Miami's crown has slipped.

In hindsight, the Hurricanes have likely suffered only from boredom the last few weeks, needing a reason to be challenged.

Tennessee provided the perfect backdrop, a national stage and 107,000-plus fans dressed, as usual, as roadside cones.

It was never a game. Tennessee (5-4) had a chance to strike early when, on the Volunteers' first possession, Cedric Houston broke through the Miami defense and ran 74 yards to the Hurricane four.

The Miami defense held, though, and Tennessee had to settle for a field goal.

"I think that made a huge statement," Coker said of the stand.

The Hurricanes played the rest of the game downhill. The only criticism was having to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. Todd Sievers made first-half kicks of 37, 39, 44 and 25 yards while Willis McGahee capped an 80-yard second-quarter drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

Miami led, 19-3, at the half, and added a third-quarter touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Dorsey to Winslow, to completely take the Volunteers and their crowd out of the game.

"At this point they are as gifted a team as we have played," Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We've played a lot of good teams in the past and have been one of those teams and that's where we want to get back to."

Miami could have spent the postgame spouting "I told you so," but took the higher road. Oklahoma's loss, and Ohio State's struggle, spoke volumes.

Miami had concerns. Its rush defense ranked 77th nationally and it knew Tennessee would test it.

But after Houston's early 74-yard run, Miami held Tennessee to 67 yards in 37 carries.

"I don't know that it was really us against the world," Coker said. "I think a lot of times it was us against us."

The Miami offense was efficient, if not dominant.

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