'Just Another Game'

Maybe he's just doing his best to show calm before the storm, but University of Miami quarterback Brock Berlin doesn't look like somebody getting ready for a big test. A test that could - fair or not - go a long way in determining his job status for the rest of the season.

Win or lose, chances are Berlin will have nothing to worry about if he delivers a productive performance when the No. 5 Hurricanes open the season against the No. 6 Seminoles Friday night in the Orange Bowl (ABC, 8 pm).

But a bad start or a few untimely decisions in such a grand stage certainly wouldn't do any good for the often-criticized UM passer. Even worse it could mean Berlin might be headed back to a place he knows well - the bench.

"I can't look at it that way. I can't go out there and try to over do it or put any pressure on myself," says Berlin, making his 13th career start for the Hurricanes since coming over from the University of Florida after the 2001 season. "I know it's Florida State and that's always going to be a big deal around here, but I have to treat it like just another game."

But try telling that to UM fans.

Forget that he was on the winning side against the Seminoles twice last season, including a 16-14 victory in the FedEx Orange Bowl where he threw for 157 yards and was 14-of-29 passing, engineered the largest home comeback in school history against Florida and finished the season with a 69% completion percentage (69-of-100) in third-down situations on the season. He threw for 2,419 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.

Yet most of his biggest critics pointed to the 17 interceptions and costly turnovers.

The 6-1, 215-pounder from Shreveport, La. was the subject of heavy criticism everywhere from sports-talk radio to Internet message boards as he endured consistency problems in large part due to poor-decision making and inability to escape defensive pressure as the season progressed.

And his mistakes certainly came at the worst time for Miami.

Miami rode into Blacksburg in early November primed for a national title run at 7-0 and ranked No. 2, but the Hokies derailed the Hurricanes title plans with a 31-7 victory as Berlin experienced a nightmare performance. Down 7-0 late in the second quarter, Berlin was sacked deep in Miami territory leading to a Virginia Tech field goal.

Things didn't get any better as Berlin threw an ill-advised pass that was returned 51 yards for a touchdown by defensive back Eric Green midway through the third quarter. Minutes later, Berlin, under pressure from the Hokies defensive line, threw a second interception that set-up a Virginia Tech touchdown and eliminated any chance of a Miami rally.

But the nightmare wasn't over.

Berlin was intercepted twice and lost a pair of fumbles in a 10-6 loss to Tennessee the following week in the Orange Bowl. Days later Berlin was benched in favor of Derrick Crudup leading up to the Syracuse game.

"I've gone over a lot of tape and seen where I went wrong, but the most important thing for me is just staying within our offense," says Berlin, who also struggled to find open receivers and developed a habit of targeting a specific target. "I realize there were times last season I didn't make the smartest of decisions. Hopefully, I will correct that."

UM coach Larry Coker has spent most of the summer making Berlin aware he doesn't have to do everything himself. The Hurricanes will benefit tremendously if Berlin uses the players around him and manages the game well, according to Coker. Translation: Miami's quarterback must be careful with the football in his hands.

"We have a lot of talented football players on our team," says Coker. "So Brock doesn't have to go out there and try to be Joe Montana."

But a sixth consecutive victory over the Seminoles will likely require a solid outing from Berlin. Florida State's passing defense, which allowed 212.9 yards per game last season, returns veteran cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Leroy Smith. Despite losing to Miami twice last season, the Seminoles secondary intercepted Berlin four times and didn't allow a touchdown.

Keeping Berlin well-protected could also be a determining factor against FSU as an injury-laden Miami offensive line has quite an assignment in the Seminoles defensive line. Despite losing All-ACC tackle Darnell Dockett, Florida State is expected to pressure Berlin with the likes of senior Eric Moore leading the way.

Miami, playing its first game as an ACC member, has outscored Florida State 142-106 since starting a five game winning streak over their in-state rivals in 2000. Another victory would vault UM towards the top of the polls and make them an early-season national championship player.

Berlin isn't showing any nerves.

"It's obviously a big challenge," said Berlin, who totaled 338 yards and five interceptions against Florida State last season. "But I'm not going to put any added pressure on myself."

Canes Time Top Stories