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College football

Caution: No passing zone

Miami is the only Division I-A team that hasn't given up a passing touchdown this season.

By MICHAEL SNYDER
Published October 14, 2004

CORAL GABLES - Grounded.

That's what happens to teams that try to throw against a Miami secondary that was questioned before the season started. The Hurricanes are the only team of 117 in Division I-A not to allow a touchdown through the air this season.

An impressive statistic, absolutely, and one that should be tested at 7:30 tonight in the Orange Bowl when No. 3 Miami (4-0) hosts No. 18 Louisville (4-0) before a national television audience on ESPN.

"It's a tremendous challenge," UM coach Larry Coker said of the Cardinals, who haven't been this good since ex-UM and current Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger resurrected the program in the mid 1980s. "They're a top-10 team in about every statistical category offensively and defensively - total offense, scoring offense, total defense, scoring defense, turnover margin."

Anyone who follows UM knows the secondary has been like a force field in making sure quarterbacks and receivers don't connect. Miami has ranked either first or second nationally in pass defense every year since 2001.

But this season was supposed to be different. New, young players were taking over. There was the rock in returning cornerback Antrel Rolle, but question marks everywhere else. Not the least of which was at free safety, where Sean Taylor had departed as the top draft pick of the Redskins to be replaced by sophomore Brandon Meriweather of Apopka.

So what happened to the dropoff?

Simple. It never happened.

UM is allowing an average of 115 yards through its first four games, which is second to North Carolina State (112.2). Coker said he's not surprised by the play of the secondary.

"One thing, we've been in this type of scheme for four years. Our players are getting more comfortable with it," Coker said. "Basically it's a scheme where hopefully we make you hold the ball, and if you hold the ball, it allows the time for blitzes, for the rush to pressure the quarterback. ... If you don't see that and now all of a sudden you do see it, it makes it difficult to prepare for in a week's time. You get thrown out of your rhythm, don't get in your route, the quarterback is frustrated, he gets sacked. Now everything is taken out of timing."

That's what UM, which has given up only 22 TD passes in its past 42 games, hopes happens to Louisville, which isn't used to playing in such big games. The Cardinals rank fifth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 43.2, and the quarterback combination of Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm averages 257 yards. But LeFors and Brohm haven't faced a defense like Miami's.

In UM's Oct. 2 win at Georgia Tech, Meriweather, who has been battling turf toe this week, caught tailback Chris Woods from behind on the first play at UM's 11-yard line to prevent a TD. Later, he intercepted Reggie Ball, which set up a 57-yard touchdown pass.

"The one that was more monumental was saving the touchdown, because we held them to a field goal," Coker said. "It showed some speed. I thought the guy was gone. I didn't know we were going to catch the guy."

"It finally showed I'm faster than what everybody thinks I am," Meriweather said. "When I first started running, I thought I never was going to catch him, but as I took five, six steps, I realized I was getting stronger and he was getting weaker, so I just kept pushing and eventually I was there."

And the 'Canes hope that never-quit attitude is again on display against the Cardinals. Of course, eventually Miami has to give up a touchdown pass. Right?

"We're going to try to keep it going all season long," said Rolle, who hasn't given up a touchdown pass in 29 games. "We're going to try to keep them out of the end zone period - not just passing touchdowns. ... It's up to us to play Miami football. If we do that we'll be fine."

[Last modified October 14, 2004, 00:44:16]


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