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Miami eyes a national title with a win over Virginia Tech and hobbled QB Michael Vick.
By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000
MIAMI -- The stage they occupied for so long is now clearly in sight. It is there to be stomped and strutted on, to be taken over as their own, just like the old days. The Miami Hurricanes made sure of that Saturday.
Fans pelted the field with oranges in the waning seconds, and the Orange Bowl once again shook with glee as third-ranked Miami made second-ranked Virginia Tech and injured quarterback Michael Vick look very ordinary in a 41-21 victory.
The win before 77,410 fans put the Hurricanes in command of the Big East race and in position to contend for the national championship with victories in their remaining three games. Playing for the national title is now worthy of discussion.
It's been a long time coming for a program that used to expect such success.
"I watched it all my life," said safety Al Blades, whose brothers Brian and Bennie starred on championship UM squads. "To finally be a part of a team that is going out and winning big games, it's like a dream come true."
After five straight seasons of losing to state rival Florida State and conference rival Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes (7-1, 4-0) have knocked off both the Seminoles and the Hokies (8-1, 6-1) in the span of a month.
For those computer gurus who man the complicated Bowl Championship Series standings, the Hurricanes stand by this fact: They defeated the Seminoles when they were ranked No. 1, the Hokies at No. 2.
"It's great, you can't ask for any more," said UM senior receiver Santana Moss, who caught four passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. "To play football for four years at the University of Miami, and not beat those guys for three years ... then the last year you come up big against both of those teams, it's a great feeling."
Moss hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ken Dorsey on UM's first possession, and later sprinted down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown that gave UM a 35-7 lead late in the third quarter.
By then, Vick, the erstwhile Heisman Trophy candidate, was back on the sideline, helpless. Vick, who sprained his right ankle against Pittsburgh and did not practice during the week, entered the game late in the first quarter after fifth-year senior Dave Meyer was unable to move the Hokies, who already trailed 14-0.
Vick was obviously not the same player who burned the Hurricanes in a 43-10 victory last year. Unable to run the option that makes him so dangerous, Vick completed 2 of 5 passes for 9 yards and was intercepted once. His fumble set up a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey, making it 21-0. Vick did not return in the second half.
"He could throw the football, but as far as running and moving around, he just didn't have it," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose team's 19-game regular season and 13-game Big East winning streaks came to an end. "You get into needing a healthy quarterback against a good team. In football, you've got to go with what you've got. Give Miami credit. They played well."
True, Vick couldn't stop the UM offense even if he were in perfect condition. Dorsey completed 11 of 23 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns; James Jackson rushed 28 times for 145 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run; Najeh Davenport had a 50-yard scoring run.
"Offensively, we knew what we had to do," UM receiver Andre King said. "We couldn't turn the ball over, let them make big plays and get on a roll. They probably challenged their defense to step up a little bit knowing that Michael Vick was out. They figured they'd have to score some touchdowns, and we didn't allow that."
When the Hurricanes scored to make it 28-0 on their second possession of the third quarter, the rest of the game was left for the rocket scientists.
How much impact will the victory have in the next Bowl Championship Series standings? Could the Hurricanes really win their next three games against Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College and be denied a chance to play for the national championship Jan. 3 at Pro Player Stadium?
"There's a formula, and the criteria is you have to beat highly ranked teams to move up," UM coach Butch Davis said. "We feel we've done that."
The swagger is back, and so are the big victories. The Hurricanes keep moving toward that stage, nine years removed from their last national championship, six years from playing for it.
In fact, all but one thing is missing, said fullback Davenport.
"Just the ring."
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