There was a lack of the Gator chomp in the Swamp.
The top ranked and pre-game underdog Miami Hurricanes stormed passed the Florida Gators in dominating fashion 41-16 on Saturday. The ‘Canes left the Swamp just as they came in – ranked No. 1 in the state and most importantly, the nation. Miami extended the nation’s longest Division 1-A winning streak to 24 games.
Willis McGahee had a career day, rushing for 204 yards, while Ken Dorsey threw four touchdown passes in a contest that saw the Gators confused and overmatched.
“We beat a very good football team,” said Miami head coach Larry Coker. “It was a sweet victory in front of a great following of Miami fans.”
Miami set the tone of the game at the line of scrimmage. Experts criticized the new Miami offensive line, but they controlled the Gator attack, as they opened numerous holes in route to 306 rushing yards and 202 passing yards.
McGahee bounced off Gator defenders, as he averaged 8.5 yards per carry.
“We are a better run blocking team then last year’s team,” Coker said. “I’m very impressed with McGahee, but I’m not surprised at all. He is primed to have a great year.”
The biggest question on the new look Miami team was the ‘Canes secondary. However, junior safety Maurice Sikes erased all doubts concerning the Miami defensive backs. Sikes, who replaced star safety Ed Reed, had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a 97-yard touchdown with 2:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Sikes’ momentum shifting play gave Miami a 34-16 lead and iced the game with what could have been a 14-point turnaround.
“Everyone questioned are secondary, and they were flat out wrong,” said junior linebacker Jonathan Vilma. “Mo [Sikes] made two huge plays, and proved why we have such a dominating defense.”
The defeat was Florida’s worst at the Swamp since 1979, when Alabama beat the Gators 40-0. New Florida head coach Ron Zook had no answers in his first game against a ranked opponent.
“I wouldn’t describe this as my worst nightmare,” Zook said. “Any coach in this position, it’s going to be now or later. Mine happened sooner. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”
It may be a blessing, but Florida still has a tough SEC schedule ahead of them, including a game against Tennessee in two weeks.
“We were just flat out better in all phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams,” Vilma said.
The Sikes interception came off Rex Grossman at the end of a Gator 92-yard drive, sucking the life out of the Gators and their chomping fans.
“Sikes’ interception was simply huge,” Coker said.
“We have players who want to play and who can make big plays,” Sikes said.
The Gators were dominated on both sides of the ball, and if not for three Dorsey interceptions – including one returned for a touchdown by Bam Hardom – the score would have been even more devastating for Florida.
Despite making some mistakes, Dorsey threw four touchdown passes, including two tosses to running back Jason Geathers.
“I made some mistakes, but I played well enough to win,” Dorsey said. “Our defense did a great job.”
The Miami defense pressured Grossman all night, as he was only 19-for-44 for 191 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked only once, but the ‘Canes defensive line rattled Grossman on nearly every passing play, forcing him to roll out and play uncomfortably. Jerome McDougle, coming off an injury, put Grossman on the ground many times, including one hit that knocked Grossman’s helmet off.
Grossman failed to lead the Gators to touchdowns in the red zone. Florida blocked a Miami punt in the second quarter, but only managed to connect on a field goal. The Gators went up 10-6.
Miami answered with an Ethenic Sands 11-yard touchdown catch. The ‘Canes then forced a UF botched punt on the next possession and proved why they are a championship caliber team. Unlike Florida, Miami managed to score a touchdown on a Dorsey strike to Andre Johnson. The ‘Canes led 20-10 and never looked back.
“We are now only 2-0,” Coker said. “We have a lot of football games left.”
Miami will travel next week to Philadelphia in a match up with Big East foe Temple. The game will feature another overmatched opponent, but the Miami players understand how important it is not to lose their focus.
“Temple will be another bump in the road, but we still must take care of business,” Vilma said. “We must not let up.”
Brian Poliakoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org