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Miami's Splashy Win Drowns Out Doubters

October 12, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State's often-tortured rivalry with Miami made the transition Saturday from heartbreak to rain-soaked.

After years of needing only a kicker to beat Miami, this time Florida State needed a squeegee.

Instead of Wide Right IV or Wide Left II, No. 2 Miami settled for a slip-and-slide, 22-14 victory over No. 5 Florida State in front of 84,336 at Doak (or was it Soak?) Campbell Stadium.

This game did not live up to the hype and will not go down in lore with others played in this epic series, but for Miami it has always been more about reign than rain.

Miami was supposed to be vulnerable after last week's close-call victory over West Virginia, and Florida State was supposed to be back after posting nine losses the last two years, but neither supposition turned out to be completely correct.

Miami ran its record to 6-0 with a dominant and reaffirming performance.

The joke was that Miami could even be in the "statement" business after notching its 38th consecutive regular-season victory and 18th in a row on the road.

Jarrett Payton, subbing for injured tailback Frank Gore, rushed for 97 yards in 26 carries.

Walter Payton, Jarrett's late father, was known as "Sweetness."

Saturday, on a wet track, his son would gladly settle for "Slickness."

"Let me recap it for you," a smiling Payton said. "I had a great day."

With Gore lost to a season-ending injury and Miami needing a fourth-and-13 catch by Kellen Winslow last week to beat West Virginia, the Hurricanes came to Tallahassee as a one-touchdown underdog.

And although Miami matched Florida State in turnovers with five, it was clear which was the more talented and determined team.

"It's one of our sweetest wins, because there were a lot of doubters," Miami Coach Larry Coker said.

Miami could have been ahead 30-0 at the half had it not squandered numerous scoring opportunities. As it was, the Hurricanes were content to take points where they could and capitalize on Florida State's many aquatic misadventures.

Miami had a 22-0 second-half lead before Florida State figured out how to grip the ball.

"The weather affected us in a lot of little ways that added up," Seminole receiver Willie Reid said.

Miami's first field goal was set up by a blocked punt, its second after it recovered a shanked kickoff.

After Sean Taylor intercepted a Chris Rix pass, Miami scored its only offensive touchdown on a 14-yard scoring pass from Brock Berlin to Payton in the second quarter.

Just before the half, Taylor returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown to make it 19-0, and Rix's fumble on Florida State's first possession of the third quarter led to another Miami field goal.

It was all Rix could do to get the ball to spiral. He completed only 20 of 42 passes and had two interceptions and two fumbles.

Rix had thrown only three interceptions in 149 attempts before the game but reverted to the form that left Florida State with a rain-drenched defeat last year at Louisville.

"I don't know if he'll ever be able to adjust to the rain," Bowden said of Rix.

Florida State fell to 5-1 with the loss, and Bowden's record against Miami fell to 12-18.

"We turned the ball over five times and had a punt blocked," Bowden said. "That's your story right there."

It wasn't the only story.

One of the biggest concerns about Miami was whether the Hurricanes could stay in the national title hunt without Gore.

Payton's key fumble in the West Virginia game nearly cost his team the victory, but he made amends Saturday.

Payton, a senior, figured his career was going to play out silently as he sat on the bench.

But then Gore got hurt.

"I didn't ever think this was going to happen, but it did," Payton said of his opportunity. "Frank went down, and I just had to step up. It's not even for me. I had to step up for my teammates, because those are the ones counting on me to not miss a step."

Payton is not Gore, but Saturday he was good enough. Lacking the speed to beat opposing defenders to the corner, Payton spent his workday with plenty of tough runs between the tackles.

Of course, his dad made a lot of those runs too.

"He was on my mind, mostly all day," Jarrett said of his father. "I was talking to him. Saying certain things. He was keeping me focused and keeping me calm. Normally, he would be somewhere high in the skybox and waving to me just to be patient, be calm."

Miami center Joel Rodriguez said it took time to adjust to Payton's style.

"The offensive line got spoiled having Frank back there," Rodriguez said of Gore. "You didn't really need to make great blocks to get him up the field. You just kind of get in guys' way. I don't think I'd put [Jarrett] in the same class as Frank yet, but it challenged us as a line to make better blocks and make better reads."

Miami had its own problems; the turnovers, the missed opportunities.

Afterward, on the field, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork shouted "This is the old Miami" to anyone who wanted to listen.

The true Miami lies somewhere between underdog and invincible.

"We have seen a glimpse of what we can be, and now we have to build on that," Coker said.

Miami is not a finished product, but the Hurricanes certainly aren't finished either.

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