tampabay.com

Miami ekes past Houston

By MICHAEL SNYDER
Published October 1, 2006


MIAMI - Perhaps the football gods have a sense of humor ... or at least perverse irony.

The Hurricanes' side of the scoreboard at the Orange Bowl was inoperative Saturday night, which wasn't all that surprising considering the difficulty their offense has had in putting points on the board.

Other than a 52-point outburst against Division I-AA Florida A&M, Miami had scored a total of 17 points in losses to Florida State and Louisville.

Against an undefeated Houston, which featured quarterback and Heisman hopeful Kevin Kolb, Miami's offense struggled to get out from under its mistakes before pulling out a 14-13 win due largely to freshman tailback Javarris James.

James rushed 18 times for 145 yards (8.2 yards per carry) and a score. The cousin of former Miami great and current Cardinals running back Edgerrin James made an immediate impact.

"I love that kid," guard Derrick Morse said. "He brings fire to the offense."

Up by a point with 2:41 to play, after Jon Peattie had missed a 35-yard field goal wide left on the previous drive, Miami went for a first down on fourth down at its 38. The Hurricanes needed about a half-yard, and Kyle Wright got that on a quarterback sneak, helping the them avoid a huge upset before a small crowd of 36,107.

"We missed the field goal, and a (Houston) field goal would have beaten us," coach Larry Coker said. "I have that much respect for their offense. I think the defense could have stopped them, but I would hate to put it in their offense's hands."

James put up in better numbers in his first start than former Miami stars such as Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and his cousin.

"I just tried to mentally prepare myself as much as I could," James said. "I felt good out there. I wasn't as nervous as I was in the Florida State game. There are a lot of great backs that came through here and played as freshman, but I'll take the win before the yards any day."

Showing speed and slashing ability in finding the hole, James had a 13-yard run followed by a 16-yard catch-and-run from Wright on Miami's opening drive. Wright, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 190 yards, found Lance Leggett wide open for a 45-yard gain, and James capped the drive by bulling his way in from 1 yard out.

James, who didn't shy away from running inside as well as sprinting to the outside, saw the ball six times on the seven-play drive. But those were the only points Miami scored in the first half.

"I think I did a pretty good job," James said. "Once I got in the flow, I kept hitting. I was on fire. Everything kept coming."

Houston led 10-7 at the break on a 4-yard run by Kolb, who didn't have a touchdown pass, and a 38-yard field goal by Ben Bell.

Miami had plenty of mistakes in the first half, including two interceptions on poorly thrown balls by Wright, dropped passes and penalties.

Chavez Grant recovered a fumble forced by Lovon Ponder with Houston deep in Miami territory and up 13-7 in the third quarter.

James then had a 44-yard run, and Wright connected with Leggett for 27 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown toss to James Bryant that put Miami up 14-13 with 1:24 to play in the third.

"It's gut-wrenching to battle that hard, come that close in this environment and not come away with the victory," Cougars coach Art Briles said.

All last week, Coker preached Miami's season wasn't over, that it could still win the ACC title and a BCS berth. All of that remains true, but with this offense, the thought of that seems as absurd as the scoreboard lights going out on Miami's side before the game even kicked off.

Then again, maybe James offered a ray of light for a brighter future.

"That boy is the real deal," center Anthony Wollschlager said. "He's a playmaker. Javarris is special - real special. He just offers a lot of explosion. He gets out there and can turn those 2- or 3-yard gains into 20- or 30-yard gains. That's what we need."