Ask anyone associated with the University of Miami, and they would tell you their most vivid memory of the 2001 season of course has something to do with the Hurricanes winning the Rose Bowl and the national championship. However, if it were not for a dropped two-point conversion, those memories might have only been classified as fantasies.
The drop came from Virginia Tech wide receiver Ernest Wilford in the back corner of the end zone, allowing Miami to preserve their 26-24 victory in Blacksburg to close out the regular season at 11-0. Wilford and the Hokies return to face the green and orange tomorrow afternoon at the Orange Bowl, looking for a chance to perhaps ruin Miami’s chances at a second straight undefeated regular season. The Hokies snapped their three game skid last Saturday with a win over Virginia, and look to thrive off the victory against their state rivals.
“Nothing will make them happier than spoiling our season,” said offensive lineman Brett Romberg. “Virginia Tech is going to bring a ball game like they do every year.”
This year’s contest marks a striking resemblance to the setting before last year’s match up in Blacksburg. While the Hurricanes reeled off 10 consecutive victories and held the No. 1 ranking in both polls for much of the season, Virginia Tech went on a tailspin after a strong start, thanks to injuries to some key players. Head Coach Larry Coker is quick to point out that the Hokies have experienced a similar situation this year.
“They [Va. Tech] may have been the best team in the country earlier in the season before injuries to a few players,” Coker said. “They are starting to get some of those players back.”
One of those players, sophomore running back Kevin Jones, returned to full power against Virginia and together with senior Lee Suggs, gives Miami’s run defense their most challenging assignment of the season. Suggs and Jones have combined for 2,035 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2002, while averaging nearly 170 rushing yards a game between them.
“They are probably the best 1-2 tandem of running backs in the country. They use them very well and are going to present a tremendous challenge to us.”
The Hurricanes offensive line awaits an equally tough assignment trying to open holes for Willis McGahee and company against a surprisingly strong Hokie front four. Virginia Tech’s defensive line may be young, but that doesn’t detract from their effective play, as they have allowed just 101 yards on average. In addition, Romberg says that Miami must adjust to some of the Hokies unconventional defensive schemes.
“They pack a lot in the box and move around a lot,” Romberg said. “Their defense is based on confusion and last year, in the first quarter, we didn’t know what was going on as an offensive line.
While the Hokies rushing attack has been atop the Big East over the past couple years, and their defensive line has constantly frustrated opposing offenses, Virginia Tech special teams continue to be the pinnacle of the program. Appropriately named after head coach Frank Beamer, “Beamerball” has been responsible for 97 blocked kicks over Beamer’s 16-year tenure with Virginia Tech. This year, the Hokies have blocked seven kicks while recording three special team’s touchdowns.
Coker is well aware that a Hokies special teams play could change the face of the game, although he will not let that aspect dictate Miami’s preparation for tomorrow’s contest.
“We are going to work extremely hard on special teams, but I’m not sure that we’ll be doing much really different. We’d like to think that we make some plays on special teams as well and that they will be putting in a little extra work for us.”
Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the final regular season game for 19 Miami seniors, including the team’s two offensive leaders, Ken Dorsey and Brett Romberg, both whom have significantly increased their play during the stretch run. Dorsey comes off a 345-yard performance against Syracuse that might have vaulted him to the top of the Heisman leader board, while Romberg was named a finalist for the Rimington trophy. The Hurricanes center is uncertain what his emotions will be coming out of the Orange Bowl tunnel for the final time.
“I can’t really say what my reaction will be, but I got a little emotional watching Joaquin [Gonzalez] last year,” Romberg said. “You have a lot of pride in what you do around, putting so much into this program and everybody appreciates what you do around here. It’s a great moment.”
Miami remained the No. 1 team in all three major polls including the BCS this week, and a win assures them a spot in the national championship Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The first step towards getting there, as Coker will tell you, is not overlooking the Hokies.
“It’s kind of natural to want to think ahead,” Coker said. “The thing we need to do is get back to reality. We don’t have anything guaranteed beyond having the opportunity to beat Virginia Tech.”
“We are in great position but we can’t look ahead. We need to just play the game and take it one play at a time.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.