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Miami Runs Around Pitt Fall

McGahee's 159 yards and two touchdowns help No. 1 Hurricanes hold off Panthers, 28-21, and improve to 10-0.

November 22, 2002|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — The 17th-ranked University of Pittsburgh football team came to the Orange Bowl seeking respect. Instead, the Panthers spent Thursday night seeking Miami running back Willis McGahee -- usually locating him after the damage was done.

McGahee rushed for 159 yards in 19 carries and scored two touchdowns in a 28-21 victory, inching the No. 1 Hurricanes ever closer to a spot in the national championship game.

"That just shows what our offense is capable of," said McGahee, who scored on runs of 69 and seven yards. "We just had to come out and show America what we could do."

But Miami players also learned what they can't do. Namely, turn on the cruise control too soon. Pitt (8-3, 5-1), which entered the game with a half-game lead in the Big East and designs on its first conference title, made a strong run down the stretch.

Down by two touchdowns for most of the fourth quarter, the Panthers cut the deficit to 28-21 when quarterback Rod Rutherford scored on a three-yard run with 4:37 remaining.

Miami got the ball back, drew a flag for holding and was unable to get a first down, giving Pittsburgh another chance with 2:12 on the clock. By that point, a light rain was falling, as were the yellow flags. Miami was penalized three times in slightly more than two minutes, keeping alive Pitt's hopes of pulling off an upset. The Hurricanes have won 32 consecutive games, 20 in a row at home, and have not lost to Pitt since 1997.

The Panthers worked the ball down to the Miami 20 but would get no closer. On fourth and five with 20 seconds to play, Rutherford just overthrew a diving Yogi Roth in the end zone, and the game was essentially over.

"We're not into moral victories," said Pitt Coach Walt Harris, whose team has won 14 of 17 since starting last season 1-5. "These guys are too serious about football to be excited about getting it close. We were close but didn't get over the hump."

Miami (10-0, 5-0) needs to win its two remaining games for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl and the chance for another national title. The victories haven't come as easily this season for the Hurricanes, who beat Florida State by one point last month and, two games ago, trailed Rutgers in the fourth quarter.

Then came the Pitt scare that included strong rushing performances by Brandon Miree (118 yards in 26 carries) and Rutherford (69 in 21). There would be no blowout this night, even though the Hurricanes were favored by 20 1/2 points.

"I haven't played so many full games in my life," center Brett Romberg said. "I've definitely earned my scholarship this year."

Those close games have brought humility. This isn't an old style Miami team, complete with chest-thumping celebrations after meaningless tackles and an incessant flow of trash talk. These Hurricanes are actually sort of humble, boring even.

"We get some of the old-time guys that come back to practice and tell us to talk more junk," safety Maurice Sikes said. "Guys like Lamar Thomas, Yatil Green, Tremain Mack, they'll come back and say, 'Talk some noise.' But that's not us."

There are vestiges of the classic Miami days. The sideline is loaded with people during the game; among those lurking Thursday were Dolphin receiver Cris Carter and former Hurricane and Cleveland Brown quarterback Bernie Kosar.

They were treated to some quick-strike theatrics from the Hurricanes. Miami scored before its offense took the field. Less than four minutes into the game, Roscoe Parrish fielded a punt and handed off to Sean Taylor, who dashed up the sideline, then cut to the middle of the field on his way to a 78-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh evened the score later in the first quarter when Brian Beinecke intercepted a Ken Dorsey pass, setting up a 34-yard touchdown drive that ended with a five-yard alley-oop pass to Larry Fitzgerald, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 74 yards.

Miami's scoring came in rapid-fire bursts. The three touchdown drives by Miami's offense required 22 seconds, 1:42 and 1:47. Pitt's time of possession was 38:41, Miami's 21:19.

McGahee shrugged when asked about his touchdown runs. Just another night's work. Asked recently what he thought about being a Heisman Trophy candidate, he said, "I'm not sure. How do you get to be one?"

After this night, no application required.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Streaking

The longest winning streaks in college football's Division I-A:

*--* STREAK SCHOOL YEARS 47 Oklahoma 1953-57 39 Washington 1908-14 37 Yale 1890-93 37 Yale 1887-89 35 Toledo 1969-71 34 Penn 1894-96 32 Miami 2000-

*--*

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