With all of the Heisman talk in South Florida focused on Ken Dorsey, another Miami Hurricane decided to enter his name in the race Saturday.
Running back Willis McGahee, vaulted into the starting lineup after the spring ACL injury to Frank Gore, tied a Hurricane record with four rushing touchdowns, leading Miami to a 44-21 victory over Big East foe Temple at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. McGahee, who gained 134 yards on 21 carries, picked up a bundle of tough yards and a pair of touchdowns in a second hallf that saw the Hurricanes run away from an Owl club that trailed by just a touchdown late in the second quarter.
After the game, head coach Larry Coker was impressed, but not surprised by the performance of the sophomore tailback.
“Four touchdowns and 134 yards? That’s a good day,” Coker said. “Willis is that type of player.”
As for the rest of the Hurricane players, the same praise can’t be rendered. Dorsey had his best game of the 2002 season, completing 20-35 passes for 314 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, all without the help of Andre Johnson, who did not make the trip after shoulder surgery.
However, Dorsey, like many of his Hurricane teammates, wasn’t happy with his team’s performance.
“When we had an opportunity to put the hammer down, we didn’t,” Dorsey said. “You want to put a team away when you can.”
The worst performance on Miami’s side came from special teams. Todd Sievers, perhaps the nation’s most accurate placekicker, misfired on two field goals and an extra point. Plus, a bad snap by long snapper Joe Fantigrassi and a drop by punter Freddie Capshaw began a 14-point swing for the Owls.
The shift in momentum came late in the second quarter, after a pair of McGahee touchdowns and a nine-yard strike from Dorsey to junior Kevin Beard. With a 21-0 lead and a fourth down punting situation, Fantigrassi came up short on his long snap attempt to Capshaw. The senior punter then dropped the football at the Temple 21-yard line.
Seven plays later, running back Tanardo Sharps scored on a one-yard plunge for the Owls first points. On the ensuing Miami drive, tailback Jason Geathers coughed up the football at the Miami 16. The Owls recovered the fumble, and a Sharps run and an extra point later, it was suddenly 21-14.
With the Hurricanes up 24-14 entering the second half, McGahee came back into the picture. After a Tanardo Sharps fumble, McGahee capped off a five play drive with a one-yard touchdown, his third of the game. Later in the third quarter, Miami put together a 70-yard drive. McGahee’s four yard score gave Miami a 37-14 lead, sealing the victory for the nation’s top ranked team.
After the game, McGahee was not thinking about his four touchdowns.
“I didn’t know I had four,” McGahee said. “I just put my head down and try to make plays.”
On paper, the Hurricanes dominated one of the Big East’s doormats as expected. The Hurricanes 477 yards of total offense more than doubled Temple’s output. In addition to McGahee’s performance, Miami’s receiving core stepped out without their leader. Beard, who entered the contest without a reception on the season, caught six balls for 65 yards. Roscoe Parrish picked up 77 yards receiving, and tight end Kellen Winslow added another touchdown catch to his productive 2002 season.
However, Saturday’s game unleashed some of Miami’s defensive vulnerabilities for the first time this year. The ‘Canes gave up 112 yards rushing, including several missed tackles. Temple coach Bobby Wallace was proud of his program’s effort.
“We played a tremendous team,” Wallace said. “I’m proud of our players when we fell behind 21-0. Our offense played as well as they can. That was our smartest game plan to move the ball against them.”
Saturday’s contest marked the third straight game Temple has played the Hurricanes tougher than expected. This time, many people will attribute some of the Hurricanes sluggish play to a letdown after the team’s 41-16 victory at Florida last Saturday. Coker, though, says that’s not the case.
“We didn’t have a letdown, but we lost a little of a mental edge,” Coker said.
Jeremy Marks-Peltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org