Against All Odds

Both of their coaches share the same first name. But the University of Miami and Troy State University football programs are miles apart, literally and figuratively. The Hurricanes (3-0) are the reigning No. 1 college football team in America and have shown little signs of slowing down. Evidence: Miami has outscored their first three opponents (Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Penn State), all established Division I programs, 137-28.

Troy State (1-2), playing a partial Division I-A schedule this season as they await a full-fledge transition into major college football in 2002, were 26-0 winners against Nicholls State nearly two weeks ago to snap a three game winless steak. That was the good news. The bad? Nicholls State had more first downs (18 to 17), rushing yards (183 to 118) and total offense (286 to 265) than the Trojans.

Barring injury or total collapse, Miami will likely be a major player in deciding who ends up in Pasadena, California playing for the national championship. And the top-ranked Hurricanes just might find themselves in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 3.

The Trojans, one of six independent teams sporting a losing record, have already matched up this season against a Division I powerhouse in Nebraska, being dealt a 42-14 defeat by the Cornhuskers. Troy State followed that up with a 54-17 setback at Middle Tennessee State. The Trojans have been outscored 96-57 in their games this season.

The Hurricanes will count on the services of a handful of All-American candidates, which includes a Heisman Trophy candidate, on both sides of the ball when they step on the field this coming Saturday. The Trojans will counter with little known players of smaller and slower stature in hopes of slowing down the Hurricanes.

Troy State head coach Larry Blakeney acknowledged earlier this week that he and Coker used to share tips and trade advice back in the early 80's when Blakeney was an assistant at Auburn and Coker was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.

Any secrets that Coker shares about his team this week might not go very far in helping the Trojans Saturday at the Orange Bowl as the Hurricanes host Troy State.

Think David vs. Goliath; Bad News Bears vs. the 1975 Big Red Machine; The Los Angeles Lakers against the Harlem Globetrotters.

"You have any ideas," said Blakeney, when asked if he had any special speech ready for his team before heading onto the field to meet UM. "This is the No. 1 team in the country we're going up against so its not a matter of giving them a couple of tips and rolling them out there. The kids will be fully prepared and are inspired to play a school with such a rich tradition"

Blakeney can boost about having the winningest football program in the state of Alabama since he took over Troy State in 1991 with a 93-31-1 record and .748 percentage. But facing the Hurricanes is a lot different than going up against the Southern Utah, Louisiana-Monroe and Jacksonville State squads of the world. The Hurricanes and Trojans will be playing for the first time ever.

Rather than increase the pressure of having to perform on the national college football stage that is the Hurricanes and the Orange Bowl, instead Blakeney has taken a different approach this week in preparing the Trojans.

On more than one occasion this week, Blakeney has talked to the team's upperclassmen on the importance of enjoying the experience and not overwhelm themselves with the task at hand. The Trojans, coming off an open week, have been putting in work for the Hurricanes for close to two weeks and Blakeney admits he can't find anything wrong with the land's No. 1 team.

"Miami has proven they are the best team in the country," Blakeney said. "If you all have seen them on film then you know they're the best team in all phases of the game. They're faster, bigger and stronger than just about anybody."

Unfortunately, they still have to show up.

The Trojans will do so with fifth-year senior quarterback Brock Nutter behind center as the anchor of the team's spread offense under new coordinator John Shannon. Nutter, 10-of-18 for 130 yards and a touchdown against Nicholls State, is 44 of 87 for 514 yards, three touchdown and five interceptions on the season.

Nutter started the season with 5,349 passing yards trailing Sim Byrd's school record of 7,092. Nutter, a three-year starter, led the Southland Football league in passing efficiency last season-the Trojans played in the Southland conference five seasons.

Junior receiver Heyward Skipper is clearly Nutter's favorite target. Skipper has 18 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns this season. No other player on the Troy State roster has accumulated more than 83 yards, although several have recorded catches.

Troy State prefers to take most of their chances through the air, having three times the yards passing that they do running. Senior tailback Demontray Carter, the team's leading rusher, has 34 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Carter is averaging 4.1 yards a carry. There isn't another running back with more than 50 yards.

The Trojans' defense, expected to carry the torch in the early season as the players on offense learned a new system, has been up and down.

Despite a shutout under their belts, they have given up close to 100 points. Senior linebacker Corey Sears leads the team with 24 tackles, while Rayshun Reed and Ben Waldrop have 22 apiece. Senior linebacker Jimmy McClain is third on the team with 20 tackles.

Although the Hurricanes won't admit it publicly, some wonder how serious Miami will be taking the Trojans. Coker said earlier in the week that he isn't concerned with a letdown from his team.

"I'm really not worried about it. I really think this team is focused on each week and won't take any opponent very lightly. They're hungry and want to play well every time they take the field."

So far, the Hurricanes have done nothing else, but look good. Last week in the 43-21 victory over Pittsburgh it was junior running back Clinton Portis, who rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns, who had the Panthers chasing for much of the night. Miami erased a 7-6 early deficit by outscoring Pitt 37-14 the rest of the way. Quaterback Ken Dorsey was 19-of-33 with 223 and a tochdown pass. He threw an interception.

"We can be much better. I don't think we've had our best game yet. Not by a longshot," Dorsey said.

Scary thought.

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