A young unit steps up and stifles heralded QB Rex Grossman.
By MICHAEL SNYDER
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- Last week, Florida quarterback Rex Grossman dominated a vastly overmatched foe. So did a young Miami secondary.
The real test would come in the Swamp, most observers said. It did, and the young Hurricanes defensive backs came out on top.
They were a huge factor in top-ranked Miami's 41-16 victory over No.6 Florida that extended the nation's current longest win streak to 24.
Against Alabama-Birmingham in the opener, Grossman passed for 337 yards and two touchdowns. But it was a different story against Miami.
Despite losing its entire secondary from last year's national championship team -- all four starters went to the NFL, three as first-round picks -- the defense didn't allow Grossman to pick it apart.
Instead, it pressured Grossman, even if it didn't result in sacks, and the young secondary came up with big plays.
Grossman was 19-of-45 for 191 yards and no touchdowns. He was sacked only once, by Vince Wilfork late, but was intercepted twice by junior strong safety Maurice Sikes, who took the first back 97 yards for a touchdown that effectively ended the Gators' chances.
"I just know our coaches had a real good scheme," Sikes said. "We have players that want to play and can play. They just may be people you haven't heard of."
The starting unit of Sikes, free safety Sean Taylor and cornerbacks Kelly Jennings, Alfonso Marshall and Antrel Rolle made sure Grossman couldn't get the ball to Taylor Jacobs, his favorite target, who had five catches for 56 yards.
"They had a lot of defenders down the field, so you couldn't throw the ball down the field," Grossman said. "They got pressure with their front four a lot, so we had to mix it up a little bit and run a lot of quick passes."
Miami led 27-16, but the Gators were driving. On second and goal from Miami's 5, Grossman tried to thread a pass to Carlos Perez.
Sikes, who had one interception last season in limited action, read the play, grabbed the ball and went 97 yards with 2:27 left in the third . The stands then began to empty.
"We wanted to get the receiver up the seam," Sikes said. "I floated over and read (Grossman's) eyes, got the interception and tried to take it to the house.
"I just wanted to get to the end zone and celebrate with my teammates. I didn't want to show anybody up."
"That's how we do it every day in practice," Taylor said.
Sikes said the secondary's success started up front.
"Our front seven is the best in the country bar none," Sikes said.
A game such as Saturday's can go a long way in boosting confidence, especially with teams such as Florida State and Tennessee down the road.
"They can still say we're young, or they can still say whatever," Taylor said. "But we came out here and did what we needed to do."
They made Grossman look human.