Tall Assignment

It's one of things that numerous teams have tried in college football this season, but failed mightily in doing so. One by one the likes of Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Virginia Tech, among others, have all tried to at least contain him this season. Problem is at the end of the day they've all walked off the football field with little success.

Now it's the University of Miami's turn to see what they can do to stop Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald when the Hurricanes (9-2, 5-1) meet the Panthers (8-3, 5-1) Saturday night, Nov. 29 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with the Big East Conference title and a Bowl Championship Series berth going to the winner.

The Hurricanes, especially the team's secondary, will obviously have their hands full with Fitzgerald, considered by many the best receiver in the nation and a likely Heisman Trophy finalist to boot.

Fitzgerald, a sophomore, already has National Football League scouts salivating over the thought that he might declare for the draft next summer. And who can blame them.

The 6-3, 225-pounder out of Minneapolis, Minn., is out of the Michael Irvin - Andre Johnson mold: physical receiver who can run with anybody.

"He just makes plays," says UM junior safety Sean Taylor, who will be tracking Fitzgerald's moves come Saturday night. "Whenever they need something big he seems to be the guy most of the time."

Fitzgerald has torched the opposition this season with a nation-leading 21 touchdowns on 84 receptions and 1,569 yards. Fitzgerald, who has caught at least one touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games and has at least 100 receiving yards in the last six games, is a physical receiver who likes to make opposing defensive backs play to his strength whenever possible. But at the same time he has the speed to blow by those same defenders.

"Everything has happened so fast its kind of unbelievable," says Fitzgerald, who leads the Big East in receiving yards per game (142.6), receptions per game (7.64), and is second overall in all-purpose yards. "I don't worry about all the attention, and all that because I need to put all my energy into helping this team succeed. There will be plenty of time, I hope, down the road to look back at my career here."

But that's not to say that Fitzgerald isn't looking forward to the challenge of measuring up against the Hurricanes secondary, annually regarded as one of the best around.

"It's going to be a lot of fun to go up against those guys, but I've been there before," says Fitzgerald. "I think I will have a better understanding this time around of what it will take to play against them."

Not that Fitzgerald was too bad against the Hurricanes last season. Fitzgerald, a freshman at the time, pulled down a game-high seven receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown, including a first quarter score that tied the game at 7-7, to help the Panthers put a major scare into the Hurricanes national title hopes.

"That just shows you the kind of player that is," said UM coach Larry Coker. "To come into the Orange Bowl as a freshman and do the kind of things he did was truly amazing."

Up until now few teams have enjoyed success covering Fitzgerald. So what exactly is the plan to stop Fitzgerald? Nobody in the Hurricanes secondary is letting out too many secrets, other than Taylor who plans to be physical with Fitzgerald every opportunity he gets, while starting defensive back Antrel Rolle doesn't intend to give him an inch.

"He's just the type of player you have to be physical with no matter what," said Taylor, who last week set a Big East record with his third interception returned for a touchdown. "The thing we can't do is let him have free reign off the line of scrimmage. Somebody has to be in his face the whole time."

Rolle, who is expected to get most of the man coverage on Fitzgerald in Saturday's contest, can't wait for the opportunity. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, Rolle is by far the Hurricanes most physical defensive back and plans on letting Fitzgerald know that he's in the neighborhood come Saturday night.

"I'm looking forward to guarding him a lot this Saturday," Rolle said. "How can you not look forward to such a big challenge. You just don't want to go against an average receiver. You always want to go against the best. And Larry is considered the best right now by a lot of people in the game. That's a way of testing yourself.

And just like Taylor, Rolle wants to make Fitzgerald earn every yard he gets against the Hurricanes.

"It's not just against him, it's against everybody," says Rolle, who has two interceptions this season. "That's really my game. I like to get up in guy's faces."

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