Hurricane fans had a lot to cheer about last Thursday when Florida State’s championship hopes went down in flames. More importantly, it seemed like one of the Hurricanes toughest tests, next Saturday’s game against Florida State, wouldn’t be so difficult.
However, if Miami wants to stay undefeated and the consensus No.1, then the focus must not be on Florida State, but rather the Connecticut Huskies, who enter the Orange Bowl tomorrow night trying to challenge the Hurricanes 26-game unbeaten streak. The Huskies are 2-3, but the three losses included close games at Boston College and against Georgia Tech. Head Coach Larry Coker knows that Connecticut will come to the Orange Bowl prepared for a battle.
“They’re a much-improved football team,” Coker said. “(Head coach) Randy Edsall’s really got it going in the right direction. I hate to be redundant, but they’re good at what they do.”
Whether Miami wants to allow this game to become a battle will be determined by their play on both sides of the ball. The Hurricanes are 4-0 this season, having won each game by a minimum of 23 points. The Hurricanes have looked sluggish during the first half over the past two contests, but that was an issue addressed during the bye week, along with many other aspects.
“We focused primarily on our offense and basically worked hard and worked on how we can get better, instead of focusing on a particular team,” said offensive lineman Chris Myers.
The bye week also gave the rest of the country some extra time to spotlight the spectacular play of sophomore tailback Willis McGahee. Coming off a 135 yard, two-touchdown effort against Boston College, McGahee has continued to be the most consistent player on the offensive side of the ball, and has vaulted himself near the top of the Heisman candidate list. More importantly, center Brett Romberg points to the success of the running game as something that can aid nearly every position on the team.
“Willis McGahee has put forth a lot of effort for this team,” Romberg said. “He has done things that have opened doors for not only Kenny, but also our wide receivers, and even our secondary.”
The other pleasant surprise of the 2002 season, the Miami secondary, shut down Brian St. Pierre and the BC offense, holding the Eagles to just 138 passing yards. The unit will have their work cut out for them tomorrow when they face underrated Huskies quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who has thrown for an average of 210 yards per contest. Coker has been extremely pleased with the development of his secondary and has no doubt they will be up to the challenge.
“I can really see our young secondary getting better and better, the Greg Threats and the Glenn Sharpe’s,” Coker said. “And also with Maurice Sikes and Sean and those players are starting to come on.”
The front seven of Miami will try and get severe pressure on Orlovsky, who’s known for primarily being a pocket passer. The defensive front does have another tall order, though, in true freshman Terry Caulley, who became the first Connecticut player since 1995 to rush for over 100 yards in three consecutive games earlier this season. Coker continues to point to the rush defense as a key for success.
“If you can stop the run with seven people, that allows you a lot of flexibility,” Coker said. “That’s been a key for us. For the most part we’ve been able to do that.
Perhaps the biggest problem early on against Connecticut, if there is one, will be unfamiliarity of the program. The Huskies recently made the jump to Division I-A, and tomorrow night’s match up marks the first contest between the two teams. Myers, though, isn’t worried about Miami’s preparation and ability to study their opponent.
“We study them just like any other team,” Myers said. “We don’t fall back on anything, and we think that everyone has underestimated them, especially their defense.”
That leaves only one other concern: overlooking Connecticut. Everyone wearing a Hurricane uniform is well aware of the match up in eight days against in-state rival Florida State. For many of Miami’s newcomers, it will be an exciting time. As for Romberg, he sees no need to pay any attention to tasks that aren’t currently in front of the team.
“I’ve already played Florida State and that’s going to be another big game, but why waste energy on them two weeks before the game,” Romberg said. “Some of the younger guys might be anxious to play them, but as a senior, we know what we are getting from them so we aren’t jumping the gun at all.”
Although the Hurricanes offer some of the best talent in the country at every position, the team will use the Connecticut game as a tool for improvement in playing 60 minutes of consistent football. That, without a doubt, is a mandatory requirement for a national championship, something that Romberg and the rest of the team are continuing to eye here in the 2002 season.
“Now it’s a fact in my mind that I won’t settle for anything less [than a national championship],” Romberg said. “The chances of us not winning a national championship scare on more than anything else.”
You can reach Jeremy Mars-Peltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.