In order for the ‘Canes to win their fourth consecutive Big East title, they needed to overcome a hostile crowd, cold weather, and Heisman candidate Larry Fitzgerald. The Hurricanes easily passed all three tests in a dominating victory.
The 28-14 win clinched the Big East Championship for the ‘Canes and puts them in a BCS Bowl game. The Hurricanes will leave the Big East conference as champions four years in a row, but will not be able to defend their title next season because of their move to the ACC.
“That’s our fourth Big East Championship in a row and our seniors have won four in a row,” Head Coach Larry Coker said. “That’s exciting.”
The victory will likely place the ‘Canes in the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. If that happens, the seniors will have been to all four major BCS Bowl games, becoming the only senior class to do so. In addition, the victory means that the seniors have won the Big East title every year of their career, which includes a national championship. Overall, the seniors lost only four games in their four seasons.
The victory against Pittsburgh marked the team’s six straight victory over the Panthers. The game time temperature, which was in the 30s, was the coldest that the Hurricanes have won a game in since the 1966 Liberty Bowl, when Miami defeated Virginia Tech 14-7 with a temperature of 36 degrees.
The victory against Pittsburgh can be attributed to two factors: a solid running game and a stellar defensive effort.
The running game jumpstarted the Hurricanes’ offense, as both Jarrett Payton and Tyrone Moss rushed for over 100 yards. Payton had a career-high 131 yards on 17 carries and scored a touchdown. He also had the longest run of his career when he scampered 55 yards in the third quarter. His backfield mate, Moss, had 115 yards rushing on 21 carries and scored twice. Overall on the day, the ‘Canes amassed 280 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
The success of the running game opened up the passing lanes for quarterback Brock Berlin, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The 78-yard screen pass to Jason Geathers was the longest play from scrimmage for the Hurricanes’ offense all season and set up Miami’s third touchdown when Payton scored from the one-yard line. It was also the longest catch or run for Geathers in his UM career.
Berlin had other big plays through the air as well. His 45-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish in the third quarter put the ‘Canes ahead 28-7.
“There were a lot of things we wanted to attack,” Berlin said. “The running backs played tremendously and when something works, you stick with it.”
Another reason the ‘Canes were able to come out on top was the great play of the defense that intercepted Panthers quarterback Rod Rutherford three times on the evening. The defense held Pittsburgh to just 72 yards of total offense in the first half, which actually was six yards fewer than Geathers gained on the screen pass in the second quarter. Overall, the Panthers gained just 232 yards of total offense, which was over 190 yards below their season average of 422.7 yards. The key to the success on defense was stopping Larry Fitzgerald. The All-American and Heisman Candidate did not have a catch in the first half of the game, and only managed to pull in three receptions for 26 yards and one touchdown for the entire contest. Fitzgerald has 87 catches for 1,595 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season, but the ‘Canes managed to hold him to his lowest output of the season. In addition, Miami had constant pressure on Rutherford, sacking him nine times on the evening.
Along with several graduating seniors like Jonathan Vilma, DJ Williams, Kevin Beard, and Jarrett Payton, the ‘Canes will likely lose a few juniors to the NFL draft as well. Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow have indicated that this is probably their last game in a Hurricane uniform, and Vince Wilfork is expected to depart as well. Antrel Rolle may also opt to leave school early, though early indications are pointing to Rolle returning for his senior campaign.
So now, the Hurricanes have to play the waiting game and watch what happens to USC, LSU, and Oklahoma before their bowl plans become official. The Orange Bowl seems to be the likely destination and would be a nice end for the Hurricanes players who will be appearing in their final collegiate game.
Darren Grossman can be reached at DRG215@aol.com