For about three quarters in Piscataway, New Jersey there was some doubt in the air regarding whether or not the Hurricanes would be able to extend their nation-leading 30 game win streak. In the fourth quarter, however, the true colors of both teams were exposed.
The Hurricanes were able to overcome a horrendous first half and a 17-14 deficit after three quarters to score four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to escape with a 42-17 win over Rutgers.
While four of the nation’s remaining undefeated teams (Georgia, Virginia Tech,
N.C. State, and Notre Dame) were all upset in close games, the Hurricanes were able to stay composed in the fourth quarter and avoid the upset bug.
“I don’t think we ever thought we were going to lose the football game,” head coach Larry Coker said after the game.
Miami took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter, when Ken Dorsey completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson. Dorsey then added a 1-yard TD pass to Kellen Winslow. The ‘Canes went on to score 14 more points in the final quarter.
Dorsey completed 16-of-31 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Dorsey was not satisfied with the predicament the Hurricanes put themselves into late in the game.
“When you’re not ahead in the fourth quarter, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re in danger of not winning,” Dorsey said. “We had to really make sure to fight back and start executing.”
Sophomore running back Willis McGahee continued to make his case for the Heisman Trophy with a 187-yard outing on 23 carries and two touchdowns, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Tight end Kellen Winslow came through with six receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown, and junior wide receiver Andre Johnson had three catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was solid as usual, with safety Sean Taylor leading the way with an interception and a 49-yard return that led to McGahee’s first touchdown of the game. Kelly Jennings and Alonzo Marshall added interceptions, and Vince Wilfork and Jon Vilma terrorized both of Rutgers’ quarterbacks, Ted Trump and Ryan Hart.
Early on in the game, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights had Hurricane fans worried. The Scarlet Knights opened up the scoring in the first drive of the game with a Clarence Pittman one yard touchdown run, and added a blocked punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter to open up a 17-8 lead late in the second quarter. Miami cut the Rutgers lead to 17-14 after a McGahee seven-yard touchdown scamper with only seconds remaining in the half.
Despite the slow start, Coker still feels that there shouldn’t be any doubt as to who is the nation’s best team.
“There’s no doubt we’re the No. 1 team in the country. Look at the score. Look at our record,” Coker said. “We played a close game, but a lot of teams play close games-through three quarters.”
With all of the upsets of undefeated teams on Saturday, the stage seems to be set for a Hurricane trip to the Fiesta Bowl as long as they win the rest of their games. The road gets tougher next week in Tennessee, where the Hurricanes can’t afford to get off to the start they did against Rutgers.
“You can’t live on the edge week to week, quarter to quarter,” Coker said.
If one thing can be learned about the Hurricanes from Saturday’s game, the West
Virginia game last week, and the Florida State thriller three weeks ago, it’s that the Hurricanes know how to handle adversity and put their best efforts together in the fourth quarter. When looking down the road at a possible national championship game, it is always wise to bet on a fourth quarter team.
You can reach Erik Kalis at email@example.com.