Time To Move On

A number of things came to a halt for the University of Miami football team Saturday night in Blacksburg, Virginia as a result of the Hokies' upset victory over the Hurricanes. Gone is the 39-game regular season winning streak that Miami commenced three games into the 2000 season.

Also erased: A 24-game winning-streak in Big East competition and an 18-game road winning streak dating back to Sept. 23, 2000.

Still none of those hurts more than having their hopes of playing in the National Championship game for the third consecutive season take an uppercut to the chin after losing to Virginia Tech. With four regular season games remaining on their schedule, Miami (7-1), who fell to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and No. 7 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, is expected to take a noticeable tumble in the BCS rankings which would further damage the likelihood of the Hurricanes playing in the Sugar Bowl for the national title.

But rather than worry about the repercussions of the Hurricanes first regular season loss in almost four years, UM coach Larry Coker says that the best thing the players could do is put it behind them and start concentrating on the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers (6-2), Miami's upcoming opponent in the Orange Bowl, Saturday at Noon.

"The thing we have to do is put it behind us," said Coker, who lost his first regular season game after 30 straight wins. "It's over and there's nothing we can do about it. We now have to focus on the Tennessee Volunteers."

The Volunteers, coming off a lackluster 23-6 victory over Duke, are tied for the lead in the SEC East Division along with 4-2 Florida and Georgia, and are also clinging on to aspirations of a BCS bowl date. Tennessee led Duke 9-6 early in the fourth quarter before taking advantage of several turnovers to extend the margin of victory.

Nonetheless, Miami will have to deal with a potent Volunteers' offense that includes quarterback Casey Clausen (1,789 yards, 16 touchdowns), junior tailback Cedric Houston (571 rushing yards, 5.1 yards-per-attempt) and receivers James Brooks (32 receptions, 459 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Tony Brown (20 receptions. 277 yards, 2 touchdowns). Tennessee, allowing 353.9 yards per game on defense, ranks seventh in defense in the SEC.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," said Coker. "We have to get ready to play a pretty good football team in Tennessee, and hope that some things fall into place for us. We got ourselves into this position, nobody else did. We have to dig ourselves out of it"

The Hurricanes will have to do it with a starting quarterback in Brock Berlin that threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and a defense that now has to prepare for a quality Vols' running game after allowing 175 rushing yards to Virginia Tech. But Coker said Berlin, who threw for 164 yards in the loss, would remain the starting QB although he hinted that the junior passer has to make better decisions with the ball in hand.

"Brock had an outstanding first half," Coker said. "We just have to go back to making good decisions. We can't win throwing interceptions."

Berlin isn't the only one that needs to improve, according to Coker. Miami was plagued by four turnovers and a poor special team's performance, which led to three of Virginia Tech's four touchdowns. The Hurricanes put up more first downs (21 to 11), total offensive yards (377 to 219) and passing yards (261 to 44) than the Hokies, but were plagued by a dropped touchdown on a fake field goal, two shanked punts by Brian Monroe and a 51-yard interception return by Virginia Tech defensive back Eric Green.

"We gave them 21 points off turnovers," said Coker. "That was the story of the game."

And it's difficult to predict exactly where the Hurricanes will be in the latest version of the Bowl Championship Series. Miami, among six one-loss teams in the top-10 of the media and coaches' polls, would gladly accept being ranked fourth in the BCS although the possibility exist that the Hurricanes could drop lower.

Regardless, with Southern Cal and Florida State expected to take up the No. 2 and No. 3 spots behind Oklahoma, the only undefeated squad remaining from a BCS-conference, the Hurricanes need plenty of help to get back into the National Championship race that will conclude with the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans Jan. 4. The Trojans should have the inside track on No. 2 after an impressive win over Washington State. The Seminoles defeated Notre Dame 37-0.

At it stands now the Hurricanes will have to win their four remaining regular season games, while hoping that most, if not all, of the one-loss teams (Southern Cal, Florida State, Louisiana State, Virginia Tech and Ohio State) ahead of them in the Top-10 suffer a defeat to have any chance of playing for the National Championship. However UM still could sneak into the Sugar Bowl by winning out combined with an Oklahoma loss in any of their remaining games, but they would have to do it by leapfrogging Florida State or Southern Cal in the rankings if those two teams win the games left on their schedules.

Miami would also gain ground in the BCS with victories over No. 18 Tennessee and No. 25 Pittsburgh. UM, 3-1 in the Big East, could win the conference if Pittsburgh defeats Virginia Tech this week and the Hurricanes defeat the Panthers Nov. 29. Under that scenario the Hurricanes would earn a BCS berth.

"Let's go ahead and pencil in Oklahoma," said Coker. "Now, you have all the one-loss teams. Georgia went down Saturday, and if there is going to be a one-loss team in there, why can't it be us?"

After watching a regular season winning streak that started over three regular seasons ago come to an end, Coker knows that Miami is an unfamiliar position in regards to the National Title hunt. But despite not being able to control their destiny after losing to the Hokies, Coker isn't giving up on the possibility that Miami could still factor into the picture before the end of the season.

"It's not like we're going to turn our backs and walk away because we lost a ballgame," said Coker. "The perspective is we don't control our own destiny. We've had that luxury for the last two years, really, and we don't have that luxury now. But we do know this: there are not a lot of undefeated teams out there right now."

Before their latest regular season setback it was Washington that handed Miami a loss in the second game of the 2000 season. But the Hurricanes rebounded from it with a convincing victory over West Virginia two weeks later.

That couldn't hurt against the Volunteers on Saturday.

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