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With two key seniors banged up, Miami still has plenty of weapons.
By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001
NEW ORLEANS -- For a while, James Jackson looked as if he might chase down a share of the national title on his own, until his left foot left him sidelined. And most people expected Santana Moss to dart off into the sunset, not hobble into it.
The two seniors, mainstays of the Hurricanes offense this season, were unavailable for much of the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday because of injury. But it turned out Miami had plenty of weapons left.
After Jackson left in the first half with a sprained left foot and Moss left with a back strain, players such as Najeh Davenport, Daryl Jones, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey and D.J. Williams kept the Hurricanes offense humming. They showed why Miami, even if it doesn't end up with a share of the national title tonight, could be next season's preseason No. 1.
Shockey had four catches for 47 yards, including an 8-yard first-quarter touchdown. Williams, considered by many the nation's top high school recruit last year, showed why he was moved from linebacker to fullback in the preseason. He had his third touchdown of the season, a 19-yard catch from quarterback Ken Dorsey that put the Hurricanes ahead 20-17.
Davenport, a junior running back, scored two touchdowns, one on an improbable 2-yard reception that gave Miami a 10-point lead in the third quarter. Portis, who is not listed on the two-deep roster and had two rushes for 3 yards in the first half, had a 35-yard run in the fourth quarter that helped Miami to a field goal that kept the Gators at bay.
"I think it shows we have a very diverse offense with a lot of depth," Dorsey said. "It was hard losing (Moss and Jackson). But we have guys who were able to step up and make great plays for us."
Williams and Davenport have been running in Jackson's shadow, but that changed against Florida.
Miami's first touchdown drive, late in the first quarter, was nearly all Jackson. His rushes of 3, 8 and 16 yards and a 10-yard reception helped the Hurricanes take a 10-7 lead. But Jackson, who earned second-team All-Big East honors after rushing for 1,006 yards, sprained his left foot in the second quarter and did not return.
Moss, meanwhile, had three catches for 58 yards in the first half and returned three punts for 38 yards, but he was unable to break away for one of his trademark big plays. Late in the second quarter he left with a back injury; he returned late in the third quarter but seemingly had lost a step.
No matter. Jones had a Moss-like 44-yard punt return in the third quarter, "a huge shot in the arm," Hurricanes coach Butch Davis said. And Davenport supplied plenty of athleticism in the touchdown catch that followed, when he not so much shook off Florida defender Marcus Oquendo-Johnson as worked around him. Oquendo-Johnson got between Davenport and the ball; Davenport came up with it anyway.
"He made a phenomenal catch," Davis said. "Literally the ball was probably going to be intercepted, and he ripped it out of the guy's hands.
"(Williams and Davenport) have played the unsung heroes for us. Both of these guys were hugely responsible for the completion of our offense. They gave us huge plays in every single big game we played."