Last season’s 18-7 victory at Boston College represented the biggest scare for the Miami Hurricanes on their road to the National Championship. Until the “Immaculate Interception,” it seemed like the Hurricanes’ ticket to Pasadena would be invalidated thanks to a fourth quarter, two-minute drive heroically engineered by Eagles quarterback Brian St. Pierre.
This year, the Hurricanes are 3-0, and although the team is coming off a lackluster 44-21 victory over Temple, Miami still finds themselves at the top of both polls. Tomorrow night, the ‘Canes host Boston College at the Orange Bowl in a rematch of that eerie Nov. 19 day. The Eagles also sport an undefeated record (2-0), but both victories were nail biters against mediocre and sub par teams respectively (Stanford and Connecticut.) Nevertheless, head coach Larry Coker emphasizes the significance of tomorrow’s match up.
“This is certainly going to be our biggest test,” Coker said. “They are more balanced than any team we’ve played so far, and they do a great job of spreading the ball around.”
The “Immaculate Interception” that everyone remembers from last year occurred on a first and goal play from the Miami nine-yard line with 20 seconds to go. Down 12-7, St. Pierre’s pass ricocheted off defensive back Mike Rumph’s knee and into the arms of defensive tackle Matt Walters. About ten yards after Walters started rumbling down field, safety Ed Reed took the ball from Walters and ran 80 yards for the clinching score.
Fans almost unanimously call that their most vivid memory of the game in Chestnut Hill last year, but Coker has a different answer to that question.
“Even more vivid was their conversion on fourth down,” Coker said. “Brian St. Pierre made a great throw [to Derrick DeWalt] to get them down there.”
In addition to avenging the near upset, the Hurricanes also have an incentive to extend their nation long 25-game win streak, as well as their 18-game win streak in the Big East, a conference record. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma says those things are nice, but they do not serve as the main incentive.
“We don’t want to use last year as our main objective, or anything else,” Vilma said. “They are a pretty good team all around, and if we use anything from last year, it will be to keep us focused.”
The Eagles return several key players on offense, including St. Pierre as their signal caller. The senior has thrown for nearly 500 yards and four touchdowns through the first two games, and was able to make some key throws against Miami’s veteran secondary last year.
“He [St. Pierre] knows what he’s doing,” Vilma said. “He knows what decisions to make before the snap, so he’s able to do a lot on the field.”
The biggest void on the Eagle offense is at running back, where Heisman candidate William Green departed for a career in the NFL. Junior Derrick Knight, who started against Miami last season due to a Green suspension, rushed for over the century mark during each of the Eagles two games this season.
On defense, Boston College returns eight starters from last year, including senior defensive end Antonio Garay and his three sacks. Miami offensive lineman Chris Myers says the key to this game will be containing the Eagle defense.
“It’s very essential,” Myers said. “They have a lot of guys returning on D, and we have to get a running game established if we are going to be all right.”
The Hurricanes come in “as healthy as they’ve ever been” according to Coker. Wide reciever Andre Johnson, who did not make the trip to Temple because of shoulder surgery, will be on the field tommorow night.
“Andre has got to play,” Coker said. “He’s the action hero on the ticket so he doesn’t have a choice.”
In the backfield, fullback Kyle Cobia returned to practice this week, rehabilitating from a leg injury. In addition, running back Jarrett Payton saw extended action in the Temple game, picking up 18 yards on six carries. Coker won’t rule out an increase in playing time for Payton.
“I liked what I saw out of him [Jarrett],” Coker said. “He came in and did a nice job. We’ll see how he practices and progresses.”
The Hurricanes are treating this game as their first real Big East test. Although Miami has better personnel on both sides of the ball, last week’s game indicated how quickly momentum could switch sides no matter who’s dominating on the stat sheet.
“We need to clean up and not have all the mistakes we had last week,” Myers said. “We’re pretty good as a hole, we just need to fix the little things.”