Archive for Sunday, September 8, 2002

Miami flogs Florida

Top-ranked Hurricanes roll to 41-16 victory

September 8, 2002

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— Miami dominated. Florida flopped.

The top-ranked Hurricanes left The Swamp on Saturday the same way they came in best in the state, best in the country, and still waiting for their first big challenge of 2002.

Miami's Jason Geathers (3) celebrates with quarterback Ken Dorsey,
center, and David Williams after catching a fourth-quarter
touchdown pass. Top-ranked Miami hammered Florida, 41-16, on
Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

Miami's Jason Geathers (3) celebrates with quarterback Ken Dorsey, center, and David Williams after catching a fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Top-ranked Miami hammered Florida, 41-16, on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

Ken Dorsey threw four touchdown passes, Willis McGahee ran for 204 yards and the Hurricanes rolled through another overmatched opponent with a 41-16 win over No. 6 Florida.

A great opportunity for new Gators coach Ron Zook to prove he can make it in the big-time instead turned into a showcase for Dorsey and a couple of Hurricanes trying to replace key players from last year's national championship team.

Miami (2-0) actually came into this game as a 2-point underdog, but when the day of domination was over, that seemed silly.

"I don't know what that was all about," defensive tackle Matt Walters said. "It's not a big surprise to us that any of that happened."

McGahee, a sophomore tailback who replaced Clinton Portis, averaged 8.5 yards a carry against the overmatched Gators (1-1).

Safety Maurice Sikes, replacing big-play defensive back Ed Reed, had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a 97-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

"We have players who want to play and can play," Sikes said. "Just nobody has heard of them."

Until Saturday.

Sikes' big play gave Miami a 34-16 lead and sealed the victory to extend the nation's longest Division I-A winning streak to 24 games.

This was the first regular-season meeting between these once-bitter Florida rivals since 1987, and the Gators looked like they might want to wait another 15 years to face a team like this again.

But there isn't much of a break for Zook and his beaten team. The Gators play Tennessee in two weeks in their key Southeastern Conference opener.

"I wouldn't describe this as my worst nightmare," Zook said. "Any coach in this position, it's going to happen sooner or later. Mine happened sooner. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise."

The defeat was Florida's worst at home since 1979, when they fell 40-0 to Alabama and 31-3 to Kentucky. The Gators went 0-10-1 that year. The 41 points were the most the Gators have given up at home since 1970 (a 63-14 loss to Auburn). That came a full two decades before Steve Spurrier took over the program and took it to greatness.

But not even Spurrier could have saved the Gators this time. They were too overmatched.

"We're better in all phases offense, defense and special teams," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.

Vilma wasn't just talking about Florida. He was including Florida State the other state rival. The Hurricanes, who have beaten the Seminoles two straight, face them again Oct. 12 for the chance at a Sunshine State sweep.

Trailing 27-16, Rex Grossman started the Gators on a 92-yard march deep into Miami territory. But Sikes stepped in front of Florida receiver Carlos Perez to make the interception and end the drive.

"I wish I could take it back but you can't," Grossman said. "So you put it in the past and go on."

The touchdown sucked all the life out of The Swamp, a great venue that used to help make the Gators nearly invincible. Lately, though, it seems like just another stadium.

Florida lost for the second time in its last three games at home, dating to its 34-32 loss to Tennessee last December. In that game, it was Travis Stephens running all over the Gators, gaining 226 yards. This time, it was McGahee, a sophomore who worked his way up the depth chart and now finds himself in the spotlight.

McGahee and Miami pushed the Gators around all night, and were it not for three interceptions by Dorsey including one returned for a touchdown by Bam Hardmon to pull Florida within 27-16 the score could have been even worse.

But for every mistake Dorsey and the Hurricanes made, they came back with an even bigger play to make up for it.

Dorsey threw two of his four touchdowns to running back Jason Geathers, and despite his up-and-down effort, the senior quarterback didn't appear to lose ground to Grossman in the early race for the Heisman Trophy.

Under heavy pressure all night, Grossman went 19-for-45 for 191 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked just once, on a play that merely added insult to injury.

Trailing 41-16, Grossman went down and Miami's Vince Wilfork celebrated with a big Gator Chomp. Wilfork drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, but it barely mattered. Most of the record crowd of 85,777 was gone by then.

Grossman had a chance to give the Gators momentum in the second quarter, but after a blocked punt gave Florida the ball on the Miami 9, the Gators got called for delay of game. Three plays later, they settled for a field goal and a 10-6 lead.

The Hurricanes answered immediately with a touchdown. A few minutes after that, they showed the difference between champions and everyone else by forcing Florida to botch a punt deep in its own territory. The 'Canes got seven points out of it, not three, and came away with a 20-10 lead.

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