Perfect Timing For UM Running Backs

University of Miami coach Larry Coker was reviewing the Hurricanes 52-14 victory over the Temple Owls – Miami's 39th consecutive regular season win - in a room full of reporters when one of the questions asked put a big grin on his face. What about those running backs, coach?

"I'm extremely proud of all those guys," said a beaming Coker. "All of them – from Jarrett to Jason- contributed in one way or another. Before the game I told all of them they were going to get some opportunities and wouldn't you know they didn't let me down."

It couldn't have come at a better time for the Hurricanes.

With less than two weeks before the No. 2 Hurricanes (7-0) travel to No. 3 Virginia Tech (6-0) for a crucial contest between National Title contenders, and starting running back Frank Gore out for the season with a knee injury, Miami's rushing attack seems to be moving along just fine thanks to the exploits of those being called on to carry the load.

After a business-like effort against Florida State in wet Doak Campbell Stadium, where the Hurricanes gained 131 yards rushing, UM followed with their biggest showing of the season on the ground with 342 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Owls.

Frank who?

In 11 1/2 quarters since Gore was injured the Hurricanes running backs have combined to rush for 476 yards. More than half of that total came against the Owls' run defense, which entered the game allowing a Big East worse 188.7 yards a game.

Miami managed 342 rushing yards against Temple, including a 61-yard TD run by senior linebacker D. J. Williams on a fake punt- as fifth-year senior Jarrett Payton had a career-high 115 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, while true freshman Tyrone Moss added 135 yards and a score. Senior Jason Geathers, who was added to the running back depth chart after the injury to Gore, had 17 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. It was the first time all season the Hurricanes had two 100-yard rushers in the same game.

Payton, making the second start of his UM career, found a lot of running room on the Orange Bowl grass a week after having to deal with a soaked field in Tallahassee. And he took full advantage of it. Payton carried the ball five times for 32 yards on the Hurricanes first offensive possession of the game, including an eight-yard scamper that tied the contest at 7-7 with 6:20 remaining in the first quarter.

"Losing Frank was obviously a big blow, but there are a lot of guys on this football team that can get the job done," said Payton.

The 6-2, 224-pounder added a crowd-pleasing 23-yard run down the left sideline before scoring on a 14-yard burst two plays later to put the Canes up for good on their next possession. After reaching the end zone on both occasions Payton pointed to the sky before handing the ball over to the referee. But besides paying homage to his Hall of Fame father Walter, who became the NFL's all-time leading rusher during a glorious career with the Chicago Bears, Jarrett was again giving thanks for finally getting a chance.

But after sitting behind a slew of quality backs like Gore and current pros Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee for the past four years, Payton is just hoping to be productive within the Hurricanes offense.

"It feels great to contribute, but I'm not going to change anything all of a sudden," said Payton, who was forced to leave the Temple contest late in the first quarter because of low blood sugar. "I know what I can do for this football team and I just hope that the coaches keep showing trust in me. I'm just working harder every day to stay prepared and not let them down."

Moss, who arrived at Miami this spring from Pompano Beach Ely High, showed flashes of what the future may hold for the Hurricanes with electrifying runs of 36 and 21 yards respectively. Moss scored on a 9-yard run with 5:19 left in the game to put Miami's final points on the scoreboard.

"I'm just try to do my part, you know," said Moss, who rushed for over 7,000 yards, a Broward County all-time record, in high school. "Frank isn't here, so we all have to get it done. Whether it's Jarrett, me or Jason somebody has to run the ball."

Gore, who went down with a torn ACL in his right knee during the first quarter against West Virginia Oct. 2, is expected to have surgery on Wednesday. At the time of the injury Gore had compiled 468 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 89 carries, including over 100-yard efforts in victories against Louisiana Tech, Florida and East Carolina.

"I don't care who you are. Anytime you lose a football player like Frank Gore it's going to be tough on your football team," Coker said. "But we have a lot of guys in the locker room that can get the job done. They realize how important they are to this football team."

It won't be easy running the ball against Virginia Tech. The Hokies have the best run defense in the Big East, allowing a league-low 88.8 yards a game. Opponents have averaged 2.4 yards a carry this season against the Hokies, while scoring just four times on the ground.

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