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The Hurricanes overwhelm the Gators in a much-anticipated showdown.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002

The Hurricanes overwhelm the Gators in a much-anticipated showdown.

GAINESVILLE -- Miami came into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday as the defending national champions who managed to be cast as the underdog.

The Hurricanes walked out with their hands held up in victory and the nation's longest win streak intact (24 games) with a 41-16 victory over Florida.

And they walked out with all doubt erased about their offensive line, young secondary, inexperienced running backs and second-year coach.

"I think it is a wake-up call to everyone else that we are here to stay," Miami center Brett Romberg said. "We have always known that we have been here, and nobody is giving us any respect. I think it opens up a lot of people's eyes that we didn't fall off."

Indeed, they haven't.

Miami (2-0) had 508 yards of offense, the most by a Hurricane team against Florida. Quarterback Ken Dorsey was 16-of-32 for 202 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions but did what was necessary to win.

And the defense, aided by a six-defensive back formation, held Heisman Trophy runner-up Rex Grossman to 191 yards on 19 completions. It was the first time he was held without a touchdown and the fewest passing yards since he had 98 in a 2000 loss to Florida State.

In their first regular-season meeting since 1987, Miami handed Florida its worst loss since Nov.17, 1979, 31-3 to Kent during an 0-10-1 season.

"What a difference a week makes," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "No question they were the better team. When you play a good football team like this, you can't make a lot of the mistakes that we made. But I feel very confident about our football team, and I know we will respond and come back ready to go."

All week, the Gators spouted that sports cliche: "To be the best, you have to beat the best."

They couldn't pull it off, even though at times it looked like they might.

But for every threat Florida posed, Miami countered with a big play, perhaps the biggest coming with 2:27 left in the third quarter.

Down 27-16 and driving, Grossman threw a slant pattern intended for Taylor Jacobs that was intercepted by Maurice Sikes.

Sikes, who played the second half with a partially separated shoulder, returned it 97 yards for a touchdown and a 34-16 lead.

"I felt the momentum change when they got that touchdown," Zook said.

"They kept getting pressure on me. But a couple of plays here and there, and it would have been a whole different story," Grossman said. "I felt liked we moved the ball well, then one play would stop the drive. We'd get stymied."

For all intents and purposes, that ended the game. But Miami sealed it with a 19-yard pass from Dorsey to Jason Geathers with 12:35 left.

"They gave up in the third quarter," Miami defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "If you give up on us before 60 minutes are up, I don't care what the score is. We are going to come after you. We played until 60 minutes were over."

Miami entered with a game plan to stop Grossman, and it worked. Despite questions about its young secondary, Miami kept Grossman and his receivers from going deep. Jacobs, who set a school record for receiving yards last week, caught five passes for 56 yards.

"We wanted to put a great deal of pressure on Grossman, moving him around a lot," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "We knew if we didn't, we would be in for a long day."

"There was all this talk about their secondary, but they are very good, talented," Florida tight end Aaron Walker said. "They have great speed, great instincts."

Florida entered hoping to run the ball to set up the pass. Early on, it was effective, particularly senior Earnest Graham. But as Miami adjusted to the no-huddle offense, Florida's running success didn't last.

Graham rushed for 89 yards on 20 carries, and the Gators had 163 total rushing yards.

But the day belonged to Miami's sophomore running back Willis McGahee, who rushed for 204 yards on 24 carries.

Leading 7-6, Florida got a break when safety Todd Johnson (who also had two interceptions) blocked a punt and Guss Scott recovered it on the Miami 11. But Florida lost 6 yards on four plays, settling for a 34-yard field goal.

Miami answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive, culminating with a 7-yard pass from Dorsey to Andre Johnson for a 13-10 lead.

On the next possession, Florida punter Jason Hunter mishandled a snap, then lateralled the ball, giving Miami possession on Florida's 9. Two plays later, Dorsey hit Ethenic Sands for a 10-yard touchdown and a 20-10 lead.

Zook said Florida now will focus on correcting its mistakes. The Miami players said it's time to start getting their due respect.

"I know what we've got," Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "We shouldn't lose any games if we take care of business."

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