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Title defense in Miami's sights

MIAMI 49, SYRACUSE 7: No. 1 'Canes get within one win of clinching Fiesta Bowl berth.

©Associated Press

December 1, 2002

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The Hurricanes needed a victory to move a step closer to defending their national title. And they needed a big margin to answer their many doubters.

The top-ranked 'Canes emphatically accomplished both objectives against Syracuse on Saturday.

Ken Dorsey threw for two touchdowns and Willis McGahee scored on runs of 61 and 51 yards as Miami won 49-7 for its 33rd straight win, the longest current streak in Division I-A.

This didn't look like the team that beat Florida State by a point, struggled early against West Virginia and Rutgers and hung on to beat Pittsburgh 28-21 last weekend.

"It was a great team performance," said Dorsey, who completed his first 10 passes. "Our offense was clicking, and that's what we have to do down the stretch. We want to build some momentum, because we know we have an even more difficult game next week."

Barring an upset by Virginia Tech in Miami next weekend, the 'Canes will finish No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, setting up a showdown against No. 2 Ohio State for the national title Jan. 3 in Tempe, Ariz.

Miami's quick-strike offense gave the Hurricanes a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, and the 'Canes cruised from there. McGahee gave them the lead on the second play from scrimmage, running 61 yards down the right side for the touchdown. That gave him 20 rushing touchdowns, 1,737 all-purpose yards and 120 points this season, all school records.

"We wanted to dominate in all phases," Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle said. "When we had them down, we just wanted to keep them down. We just wanted to keep playing at a Miami pace. We didn't want to pull out just because we were ahead by 21 points."

The Orangemen, who finished with their first losing season since 1986, came in as 20-point underdogs, and they were no match for Miami, which had won the previous two meetings by a combined score of 85-0.

Still, despite the imposing deficit, the Orangemen breathed life into their upset hopes when Walter Reyes scored on a 1-yard run 39 seconds before halftime.

Dorsey ended the pipe dream on the sixth play of the second half, hitting Andre Johnson for 68 yards to the Syracuse 2 to set up Quadtrine Hill's 2-yard TD run. That gave Miami a 28-7 lead.

"They didn't overlook us," Syracuse tight end Joe Donnelly said.

The 'Canes even scored on a fake punt late in the fourth, which elicited boos from the remaining fans in the Carrier Dome. But the Orangemen had no gripe.

"It's something they probably felt they had to get on film for other teams to see," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I don't blame them for that at all."

It was a record-setting day for McGahee. His 5-yard run late in the first quarter also gave him a team-record 1,419 yards rushing, eclipsing the season mark of 1,416 set by Edgerrin James in 1998.

McGahee, who did not play in the fourth quarter, finished with 134 yards on 14 carries to move his season total to 1,481. It also was his ninth 100-yard game of the season, which broke the school record he shared with Ottis Anderson and Clinton Portis.

The Orangemen entered allowing 296 yards passing a game, ranking them 115th out of 117 I-A teams. They proved an easy mark for Dorsey, who was 12-for-15 for 229 yards in the first half and 16-of-25 for 345 overall.

The Hurricanes finished with 565 yards and gained 9.3 per play against a defense that had allowed an average of 551 yards in its previous three games.

"It was an outstanding performance today," said Miami coach Larry Coker, who is 23-0 in two seasons. "We came up with some huge plays. We couldn't be in a better position than we are now. We control our own destiny."

Six Division I-A teams have had winning streaks longer than Miami's, and the 'Canes' streak is the longest since Toledo's 35-game run that ended in 1971. Oklahoma (1953-57) holds the Division I-A record with 47 straight victories. Miami would need to remain unbeaten this season and go undefeated next to break the mark.

Rarely pressured except for two sacks, Dorsey calmly picked apart the Orangemen. He hit Ethenic Sands for a 23-yard touchdown with 1:01 left in the first quarter, then hooked up with Johnson on a 4-yard score with 10:15 left in the first half.

Both scoring plays came on crossing patterns over the middle. The second gave Dorsey and Johnson 18 touchdown passes together, one shy of the Miami mark held by Vinny Testaverde and Michael Irvin. Johnson finished with six catches for 181 yards.

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