After narrowly escaping the first obstacle in their quest to Pasadena, the Hurricanes will host No. 14 Syracuse tomorrow in a contest that will decide the Big East title as well as Miami’s national championship aspirations.
The Hurricanes enter Saturday with a nation best 18-game win streak. Last weekend at Chestnut Hill, Mass., Miami needed an amazing game-saving interception by Matt Walters and subsequent Ed Reed touchdown return in the final seconds to sneak past an upset-minded Boston College team 18-7.
With a victory tomorrow, Miami will solidify the Big East title, however tomorrow’s contest is only one step in the Hurricanes’ race to the Rose Bowl. After Syracuse, Miami must defeat Washington and Virginia Tech to remain in the top two of the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
With that in mind, Miami can’t overlook the Orangeman, who bring an eight-game winning streak to the Orange Bowl. That includes a quality win over Virginia Tech three weeks ago.
“Syracuse has always been a tough match-up for us,” said Hurricane coach Larry Coker. “They are well-coached and are a very exciting football team that has won eight games in a row. Their defense and kicking game have been spectacular.”
Syracuse is led by that dominating defense as well as a dangerous rushing attack. Senior defensive end Dwight Freeny leads a unit that has allowed 15.7 points per game.
Freeny’s two sacks at West Virginia last week gave him 16.5 on the season – already an NCCA single-season sack record. Freeny will face off against Hurricane offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has not allowed a sack in his career.
“[Freeny] is one of the toughest challenges we will face all year long,” said Coker. “He is one of the premier players in college football. He can take over a game.”
Clifton Smith, second on the team with 107 tackles, leads an Orangemen linebacker unit that is extremely fast. Outside linebackers Rich Scanlon and Charles Burton are quick to the ball and have 50 and 47 tackles, respectively.
The Syracuse pass defense has a lot of athletic ability, holding opponents to an average of just 5.9 yards per pass. Free safety Quentin Harris will be all over the field as he leads the team with 107 tackles and four interceptions.
After struggling mightily last week, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey will not change his game plan against the Syracuse defense.
“We moved the ball great last week, but just made too many mistakes,” said Dorsey. “I’m still going to throw the ball downfield. We will bounce back.”
The Syracuse offense is run oriented with senior tailback James Mungro getting the bulk of the carries. Mungro will be Miami’s focus as he leads the team with 937 yards and 12 touchdowns on 199 rushes. Mungro rushed for 68 yards on 21 carries and recorded a career-high four receptions last week against West Virginia.
“Syracuse’s strong suit is running the ball,” Coker said. “Mungro is a great tailback.”
Sophomore quarterback R.J. Anderson, who runs the option for the Orangemen, has thrown for 810 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 218 yards and four touchdowns.
The passing attack should not pose much of a threat to the Miami secondary, as the Orangmen’s strength is on the ground.
Last time out against West Virginia, Anderson was just 10-of-18 passing for 86 yards.
“They run the option real well,” said Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma. “The front seven must stop the run.”
Miami controls its fate for the remainder of the season. The Hurricanes must win out to secure a Rose Bowl Bid.
“If we win Saturday, the Big East and BCS looks good for our team,” Coker said.