MIAMI 26, TENNESSEE 3: UM reclaims its swagger, and almost surely the top spot in the AP poll, on the road.
By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 10, 2002
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- To put forth the theory that the Miami Hurricanes felt they had something to prove Saturday would be akin to saying you might hear Rocky Top on occasion at Neyland Stadium.
The Hurricanes turned down the volume on Tennessee's fight song and turned the old arena by the river into a somber sea of orange with a dominating 26-3 victory that should restore some sense of order to their existence.
"This week, there was definitely a sense of urgency," UM senior center Brett Romberg said. "It was a matter of putting up our (stuff) before being carried out of the mix.
"I think a lot of the guys, maybe myself included, we were used to beating these teams. We thought we could throw our helmets and shoulder pads out there and still win. I think some attitudes changed. Egos were left behind. The young guys contributed. The older players are leading. I hope we changed a lot of minds and perceptions about our football team."
Perhaps it is odd for a team that has not lost in more than two years to feel it has something to prove.
But that was the case this week, when the Hurricanes dropped to second in the Associated Press poll and third in the Bowl Championship Series standings, putting in peril their ability to defend their national title.
Now all is right with the UM world.
Tailback Willis McGahee rushed for 154 yards on 30 carries and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Ken Dorsey completed 18 of 35 for 245 yards and a score. The defense allowed 218 yards.
There were 107,745 fans in the stands, but the UT supporters had little to cheer.
"I think they were loud for about 35 or 40 seconds," Romberg said. "You could almost hear them quiet down."
The second-ranked Hurricanes improved to 9-0 and extended their winning streak to 31 games. They also have won 16 straight on the road. Perhaps that will overshadow the fact they have won ugly in recent weeks, casting doubt upon their status as the best team in the country.
With Saturday's results, UM is likely to return to the top spot in the Associated Press poll (they already were No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll). UM is one of two undefeated teams in the country along with Ohio State.
No. 1 Oklahoma lost to Texas A&M, so the Hurricanes are all but assured a spot in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 to play for the national championship if they beat Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
"It was an outstanding win, to say the least," said Larry Coker, 21-0 as UM's coach. "This was our best game of the year by far. It was a great team win. It was a tough atmosphere where they don't lose too many times. ... I was pleased with the way we responded against a tough opponent. We were solid in every phase of play today."
Granted, this has not the best of seasons for the Vols, who dropped to 5-4 and have lost three home games for the first time since 1985. Ranked fourth in the preseason, it is a major disappointment for them to be in this predicament.
Nonetheless, the Vols are not Rutgers and saw this as a chance to make their season.
On the second play from scrimmage, Vols tailback Cedric Houston ran up the middle for 74 yards, the longest run of his career and the longest against UM in six years. That gave the Vols first and goal at the 4, but they settled for a field goal.
"I thought that made a statement about our defense," Coker said.
"I said, 'Let's keep them out of the end zone,' " defensive tackle Matt Walters said. "That really took them out of it. They lost momentum. That was worse than going three and out."
From there, the Hurricanes took over, scoring on five straight possessions. Todd Sievers kicked field goals of 37, 39, 44 and 25 yards and McGahee, who had 100 yards at halftime, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. UM led 19-3.
"We had a lot of long drives, wore them down some," guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli said. "That softened them up and their crowd got tired of cheering because our offense was on the field a lot."
And UM's much-maligned defense did the job, too. Take away the 74-yard run by Houston, and the 'Canes allowed 67 rushing yards. Their nation-leading pass defense yielded 77 yards.
"At this point, they are as gifted a team as we've played," UT coach Phil Fulmer said. "We've played a lot of good teams in the past and have been one of those teams, and that's where we want to get back to."
If the Vols had any hope of getting back into the game, it ceased when quarterback Casey Clausen did not return in the second half because of foot and ankle injuries sustained in the second quarter. Clausen completed 4 of 15 for 63 yards and was sacked three times. His replacement, freshman James Banks, had no chance, completing 2 of 5 for 8 yards.
"We weren't coming here to get it back," UM safety Maurice Sikes said. "We were coming here to take it back."