Old-time rivals set to face off

Following an off-season full of anticipation, the new era of Miami football began without a hitch last Saturday as the Hurricanes handily defeated Marshall 31-3. Despite the magnitude of this win for the program, Head Coach Randy Shannon didn’t give his team much time to celebrate the victory.

“Once we left the locker room, Marshall was over,” running back Javarris James said.

The reason: a much stiffer test looms on Saturday as the ‘Canes travel to Norman, Ok. to face fifth-ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners pulled out a convincing victory of their own last weekend, routing North Texas 79-10.

Against Marshall, Miami’s running game was dominant as James and true freshman Graig Cooper combined for 215 of the team’s 251 rushing yards. Junior quarterback Kirby Freeman, on the other hand, went 9-for-21 and threw for just 81 yards. The Hurricanes must do a better job of balancing the offense against a brutal Sooner run-defense if they hope to put up points this weekend.

“We have to be balanced because they are a really big and physical team that moves right to the ball,” James said. “We expect them to load the box and make it tough on us [the running backs].”

According to Shannon, the Hurricanes are going to stick to what they do best and run the ball.

“We don’t have to throw the ball for 300 yards to win the game,” Shannon said. “We are going to continue to pound the ball. If we can go into Norman and rush the ball for 260 yards, we’ll win the game.”

Miami’s star-studded defensive unit will also have quite a challenge in stopping a potent Oklahoma offense led by junior wide-out Malcolm Kelly. The ‘Canes recorded six sacks and four interceptions against the Thundering Herd, but the secondary still allowed big receptions up the middle.

“I think everyone was a little anxious out there,” safety Kenny Phillips said. “We all wanted to make the big play.”

The Hurricanes must continue their suffocating pass rush and put pressure on Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford, a redshirt freshman who threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns in his debut last weekend. The defensive line, led by standout ends Calais Campbell and Eric Moncur, can crush the offense by applying pressure and forcing turnovers as they did against Marshall.

The defensive line is also faced with the task of stopping two very talented running backs in DeMarco Murray and Allen Patrick. Murray scored five touchdowns against North Texas in his first career game and Patrick, a senior, did not play in the opener due to a sore ankle. He is now at 100 percent, however, and could cause fits for Miami’s front line.

“Stopping the run is they key for us,” Phillips said. “People are not expecting us to stick around. If we stop the run, we will stick around.”

The implications of this game are huge for the Hurricanes, who, with a win, can move back into the top 25 and have their first 2-0 start since 2004. But Shannon is keeping the mood calm in the locker room and playing down the hype.

“It’s just another game for us,” he said. “That’s all it is.”

Even though Miami is the 10-and-a-half point underdog, they are confident that they will be no easy match for the Sooners.

“People say [Miami] can’t win the big one anymore,” James said. “But we are going to show the world that we are for real.”

Zack Loss may be contacted at z.loss@umiami.edu.