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Miami Offers No Gator Aid in Easy Win

Nonconference: No. 1 Hurricanes look even better than last season while pounding state rival Florida, 41-16.

September 08, 2002|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Here is what's different about Miami since the Hurricanes thrashed Nebraska in last season's Rose Bowl to win the national title and lost 11 players to the NFL draft, including both leading rushers and the entire secondary:

They're better?

Playing state rival Florida for the first time in the regular season since 1987, No. 1 Miami made the No. 6 Gators consider another 15-year hiatus after a 41-16 victory Saturday before a crowd of 83,771 at Florida Field.

Miami (2-0) introduced 12 new starters this season, but the transition has been as seamless as some hockey line changes.

Miami extended its winning streak to 24 games and laid to rest speculation the Hurricanes would rest on their laurels in the wake of last season's 13-0 run to the national title.

Miami lost players some programs couldn't replace in years--running back Clinton Portis, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, safety Ed Reed--yet somehow marched up, over and around Florida.

The Hurricanes finished with 306 yards rushing against a defense that was considered formidable. They got a 204-yard effort by sophomore Willis McGahee, who averaged 8.5 yards per carry.

"Obviously, when you rush for 300 yards, you're blocking somebody," Miami Coach Larry Coker said.

McGahee?

He is the latest model in Miami's tailback production line, a player who went unnoticed last year because of an injury and became the starter this year only because of an injury to Frank Gore.

McGahee, in one sultry evening, overshadowed a disappointing showdown between Heisman Trophy quarterback candidates Rex Grossman and Ken Dorsey, and made a name for himself.

"I wouldn't mind being a Heisman candidate," McGahee said. "I don't know how you do that."

McGahee was told he had just turned in his application.

It is already scary to think how much better Miami might get when the talented Gore returns from a knee injury.

"When Frank gets back, it's going to be better for us and bad for the teams we're going against," McGahee said.

Although Miami entered the season ranked No. 1, the Hurricanes somehow had this notion people didn't really think they could replace a truckload of first-round draft picks.

What about that inexperienced secondary?

Well, junior safety Maurice Sikes put that doubt to rest when he turned the game on its end late in the third quarter, tipping a Grossman pass to himself at the Miami three-yard line and then racing 97 yards for a touchdown.

Was it big?

"Huge," Coker said.

Florida, which cut the Miami lead to 27-16 in the third quarter when linebacker Byron Hardmon intercepted a Dorsey pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown, was looking to make it a four-point game when Sikes so rudely intercepted.

Sikes' catch and run with 2:27 left in the third quarter made it a 34-16 game and Miami added the rubber stamp in the fourth on a 19-yard scoring pass from Dorsey to Jason Geathers.

Sikes further tormented Grossman with another interception in the fourth quarter.

He made both plays in desperation, having separated his left shoulder in the first half while trying to tackle Florida back Earnest Graham on a touchdown run.

"It would have had to have been a broken leg for me to come out," Sikes said after the game.

On the flip side, here's what is different about Florida since Steve Spurrier scratched an itch and left Gainesville to coach the Washington Redskins:

Everything?

Ron Zook inherited the impossible job of replacing Saint Spurrier, and failed in his first major challenge against a major opponent.

These transitions take time, so expect Gator fans to give Zook two or three more practices to straighten things out.

Florida (1-1) entered Saturday's game with a 69-5 home record since 1990, yet left having allowed the most points at home since giving up 63 to Auburn in 1970.

For the record, Spurrier's five home losses were by a total of 25 points.

Zook notched his first victory in last week's 51-3 walk-through against Alabama Birmingham, yet that barely registered on the Gator-meter.

"It's going to happen sooner or later," Zook said of his first Florida defeat, "mine just happened sooner. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Our football team is going to get better."

Or else....

It wasn't so much that Florida players lacked the skill to compete with Miami, although that was part of it. Miami made Florida wilt in the second half--quite a scientific setback for the school that invented Gatorade.

"Every time they called time out we looked over and they were on their knees," Miami center Brett Romberg said of Florida players.

Missing more than the physicality, though, was the psychological hold Spurrier held on his players and the opponent's.

As the junior Grossman struggled through one of the toughest nights of his career, Spurrier was not on the sideline to set him straight with a visor-toss or a two-minute tongue lashing.

And so much for Grossman versus Dorsey, a ballyhooed battle that ended up a bust.

Grossman and Dorsey finished second and third in Heisman voting last year behind Nebraska's Eric Crouch, but neither came close Saturday to striking the pose.

Grossman completed only 19 of 45 passes for 191 yards, with two interceptions and no touchdowns.

Dorsey completed half of his 32 passes for 202 yards and four touchdowns, but also had three interceptions.

"I thought I played well enough to win," Dorsey said.

He'll have to play better to win the Heisman.

Dorsey can take consolation in the fact that he is 28-1 as a starter, has time to work out the kinks and is surrounded by enough talent to stock an NFL expansion franchise.

Dorsey also knows his team can walk into any hostile environment and win--at Penn State, at Florida State, at Nebraska (the Rose Bowl) and now, at Florida.

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