tampabay.com

Disappointment a shared catalyst

By MICHAEL SNYDER
Published December 30, 2005


ATLANTA - This isn't where they wanted to be.

It isn't where they expected to be.

But the Miami Hurricanes say that even without a BCS berth, they have plenty of motivation entering tonight's Peach Bowl matchup with LSU at the Georgia Dome.

"It's not what we trained for and what we worked for in the offseason," 'Canes sophomore quarterback Kyle Wright said. "But I think it has definitely been a successful year."

It's not as if the game is a matchup of also-rans. A matchup of teams that lost at the worst time would be a more apt description.

No. 9 Miami (9-2) was shocked at home in a sloppy Nov. 19 loss to Georgia Tech, which denied it a berth in the ACC title game. No. 10 LSU (10-2) lost in the SEC Championship Game to Georgia.

"A win in this game will really show who should have played for a possible BCS berth," sophomore linebacker Jon Beason said. "Both of those teams that played in the ACC championship; we're better than both of them. This is a bowl game. We'll come to play. Everyone has a chip on their shoulder."

It's not tough to see why.

Of 28 bowl games, the Peach is one of three - the national championship Rose and the Fiesta are the others - that pit Top 10 teams against each other.

But there's still a stigma attached to playing in a bowl when the calendar still reads December. There's also the lingering bitterness of what could have been.

"We feel we should be undefeated right now. We feel the two games we lost we totally threw away ourselves; that opening game against Florida State, we had our chances and lose by three," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We lost to Georgia Tech by four. And it had nothing to do with what other teams were doing. We just didn't play well. We just didn't get it done. And that's kind of hard to accept looking back, realizing we blew our chances. Now we have to finish up the season beating a good team in a big bowl."

That's the same way the Tigers, who won the BCS national title two years ago, likely feel.

"I think so," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "They're very hungry. They're disappointed by that game. Any time you lose, a little like us last year losing to Virginia Tech, we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. And I could see that being the same way with LSU."

The Tigers are strong up front, and UM's offensive line has been inconsistent. There were 14 sacks allowed in the first two games, followed by huge improvement, followed by a meltdown against the Yellow Jackets, when Wright was sacked seven times and pressured almost every time he dropped back.

"I'm very impressed with (LSU's) front four guys," Wright said. "They like to bring a lot of different blitzes. But sometimes they don't need to, with the four guys continually getting pressure without sending blitzes. I know our O-line is going to step up and take that personally."

There's also pressure on Miami's thin receiving corps to make plays. Junior Ryan Moore was suspended from the team for breaking an undisclosed team policy and didn't make the trip. Senior Sinorice Moss, Miami's leading receiver, and sophomore Lance Leggett will start, with junior Darnell Jenkins and little-used Khalil Jones as the backups. Akieem Jolla recently left the program to return home to New Orleans to take care of his mother, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Last week, Terrell Walden tore the MCL in his left knee.

Coker has said he'll play return man Devin Hester on offense, which should give LSU a little extra to think about.

Much is at stake. A 10-win season. A likely Top 5 finish. Help in recruiting.

"It's another big game," cornerback Kelly Jennings said. "It's the Peach Bowl. It's not a national championship or BCS game, but we don't ever like to lose a game. We'll prepare to win, prepare to play hard."