On Alert Before The Storm

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. For the University of the Miami last Thursday night's football game against the West Virginia Mountaineers was going to be the perfect time to eliminate some of the Hurricanes' most pressing deficiencies - penalties, turnovers on offense and missed tackles - before concentrating on the No. 5 Florida State Seminoles.

It didn't work out that way.

Despite avoiding a major upset thanks to kicker Jon Peattie, who hit five field goals including the game-winner with: 11 seconds remaining to give the Hurricanes (5-0) a 22-20 victory over the Mountaineers, UM proved it has plenty of things to straighten out before its Saturday intrastate showdown against the Seminoles (5-0).

The record and ranking (No. 2) may indicate that Miami is still in line for a national championship run as of right now. But the Seminoles could change all that if the Hurricanes don't get their act together in a matter of days.

UM struggled finding any offensive consistency (5-of-15 on third-down conversions), running the ball (88 yards), staying away from penalties in crucial stages of the game (8-for-55) and tackling the Mountaineers (three missed tackles on West Virginia's go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left in the game). Starting quarterback Brock Berlin also contributed to the sloppiness on offense with two interceptions, while the receiving unit was responsible for a handful of dropped passes.

The Hurricanes will also have to play the rest of the season without redshirt sophomore Frank Gore, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a left knee ACL tear in the first quarter against West Virginia. Not ideal conditions preparing for a Florida State team that has outscored their first five opponents 189-37 behind a balanced offense and swarming defense.

But despite the close call against the Mountaineers and being six-point underdogs to the Seminoles, Miami coach Larry Coker contends that his team will be ready when the opening whistle is blown at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"When you win a close game like we did there usually is a drop of in confidence but we have as good an attitude as we've had all year long," said Coker, who is 2-0 vs. the Seminoles. "We feel good about the opportunity we have in front of us. It's going to be a tremendous challenge."

Where do we start?

The Hurricanes defense, which allowed 170 rushing yards against West Virginia and is seemed to wear down as the game progressed, will likely have its hands full again. Only this time they will be faced with stopping a powerful Seminoles running game that features senior Greg Jones. Jones, an All-America and Doak Walker Award candidate, leads the Seminoles with 265 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 53 carries after suffering a season-ending knee injury late in the 2002 season.

Jones, coming off a 79-yard, one touchdown effort in a 56-7 victory over Duke, is vying to become the seventh player in school history to lead the Seminoles in rushing three times during his career Jones was the team's leading rusher in 2001 (713) and 2002 (938). As if that wasn't enough bad news for the Hurricanes Florida State reserve tailbacks Leon Washington (dislocated shoulder) and Lorenzo Booker (knee sprain) practiced earlier this week and could be available for the game on Saturday. Washington hasn't played since the season opener against North Carolina, Booker went down in the second game of the season.

Sophomore Willie Reid has added 159 rushing yards on 34 carries in five games. Florida State enters the game against Miami averaging 37.8 points scored per game, an increase of 6.2 points from a season ago, while junior quarterback Chris Rix has thrown for 1,288 yards and eight touchdowns.

"We have to penetrate their offensive line," said Miami sophomore defensive end Thomas Carroll. We have to hit them early and make them know that we're not going to go away. We just have to line up and find away to get it done."

The Seminoles defense, which ranks first in the nation in scoring defense, will also pose quite a test for Berlin, who aside from leading a second half comeback against Florida has turned in mixed reviews. Through five games, Berlin has accounted for more turnovers (10) than touchdown passes. Berlin is looking to keep the same approach despite not having Gore behind him.

"I have a lot of talented players around me," says Berlin. "That hasn't changed – even with Frank going down - and I have to take advantage of that."

"Brock needs to play well but he doesn't need to put it all on his shoulders," said Coker.

As if keeping Berlin on his feet against a dominate FSU defensive front isn't enough to keep UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe working through the wee hours of the night, the Hurricanes will attempt to establish a formidable running game against the Seminoles with fifth-year senior Jarrett Payton leading the way. Payton, who rushed for 69 yards on 21 carries against the Mountaineers, is looking at significant playing time after the injury to Gore. True freshman Tyrone Moss and senior Jason Geathers will add depth at the position for the Hurricanes.

"We're not going to change anything or add anything," said Kehoe. "I have confidence in our guys up front to do the job. It won't easy but then again nothing is ever easy."

Although the Hurricanes have won three straight games in a series that started in 1951, there is a growing perception around the country that this may be the year of the Seminoles. But no matter what happens in the game the Hurricanes apparently aren't giving an inch.

Kehoe reminds a reporter that despite the team's underdog status Miami hasn't lost to Florida State since 1999. Told that the Seminoles intend to cover him man-to-man Miami junior tight end Kellen Winslow responds by saying that no linebacker in the country can keep up with him - not even Florida State senior All-American Michael Boulware.

About that betting line?

"Odds are for the mob," said Winslow. "For the bettors."

And it's evident the Hurricanes are ready to roll the dice.

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