Miami won the 2004 Florida Cup and has defeated Florida and Florida State six straight times. The Hurricanes have put themselves into position to finish in the top 10—something that would be a good springboard to a strong 2005 preseason ranking.
"At Miami, a BCS game is the expectation," Miami head coach Larry Coker said, "but we've had a very good season and I'm proud of it."
The Miami offense struggled in the first half gaining only 50 yards, but they were leading 17-3. They finished the game with 277 yards compared to Florida's 406—the numbers were misleading as Miami controlled the game from the beginning.
"The team will learn from this experience," Florida interim head coach Charlie Strong said. "They have a bright future ahead of them."
After a second three-and-out by Miami to start the game, Tremaine McCollum blocked and recovered a Brian Monroe punt. Florida took over on the Miami 20-yardline, but it was time for the Miami crowd to help their defense hold the Gators to a 4th-and-1 from the 11. The Gators decided to go for it instead of attempting a field goal. Wide receiver Dallas Baker came running in late causing an illegal motion penalty and the Gators settled on a 32-yard field goal attempt by Matt Leach. The attempt was blocked by Thomas Carroll.
And then Devin Hester did it again. He made another big-time play in a big-time game. He scooped up the blocked field goal and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown blowing by potential tacklers racing up the Florida sideline to give Miami a 7-0 lead. Just like last time he scored a touchdown against the Gators, the sophomore received an unsportsmanlike penalty as he high-stepped into the end zone when he reached the 10-yardline. He also did a dance in the end zone similar to his favorite football player, Deion Sanders.
"Yeah I have talked to Deion recently," Hester said. "I just wanted to do it for a tribute towards him. I used to do it all the time in rec leagues."
Hester is a big-time player, make no mistake about it. You could sense he was ready for this game when he first stepped on the field to take the opening kickoff. He was bouncing around getting his teammates ready. He had swagger. When Devin does this, you can tell something big is about to happen. He didn't disappoint.
In the second quarter Hester intercepted a pass by Chris Leak who never looked comfortable all game. Hester led Miami in interceptions with four despite playing mainly at nickel back all season. Leak finished the game 19-of-39 for 262 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was pressured all game by the Miami defensive line and either was sacked or had to scramble. For the game he rushed for 38 yards on 14 carries.
"We have to give credit to Miami," Leak said. "They played really well and brought a lot of different looks on defense."
With Miami holding onto a 10-3 in the second quarter and not getting a lot of yards from their offense, Roscoe Parrish stepped up. Parrish returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown—his second punt return for a touchdown this season. The two touchdown lead gave the Hurricanes a cushion they would benefit from the rest of the game.
"Coming into this game, we felt like we could win," Strong said. "Without those two kicking plays early in the game, who knows what would've happened?"
The Hurricanes finally got an offensive touchdown in the game with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Brock Berlin engineered a seven-play, 68-yard drive spanning 3:48 that was capped off by a pass to Ryan Moore in the corner of the end zone to give Miami a 24-3 lead. Moore missed six games this year due to a sprained foot. Last year as a freshman he led the team in receiving yards with 627, but only finished with 85 this season.
Florida closed the gap to 24-10 on a 45-yard touchdown reception by Jamalle Cornelius. Cornelius dove to catch the Leak pass in the end zone as Leak was hit hard by Javon Nanton knocking Leak's helmet off onto the ground.
"We have to focus more on the mental aspect of the game," Cornelius said. "Once you get behind to a team like Miami, it's real tough to get back in it."
Miami would control the second half as Berlin made some key throws as he finished 13-for-24 with 171 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The transfer from Florida finished 19-5 as a starting quarterback at Miami including two bowl wins, a 3-0 record over Florida State, and a 2-0 record against Florida.
The Hurricanes also said goodbye to senior cornerback Antrel Rolle who could be the first cornerback selected in April's NFL Draft.
"It is going to be hard watching these guys on television without me," Rolle said. "I love all of these players, coaches, and my family."
Miami started five defensive backs, but leading tackler Greg Threat was not one of them. Threat has been bothered by his shoulder, but he did see action on the first drive when he came in on third down in a dime package.
Alton Wright who played in his final game as a Hurricane suffered a broken leg in the first quarter and had to be carted off the field. While he was on the cart every member of the Hurricane defense came over to shake his hand before the defensive end from Houston left the field. He was clearly in pain when he went down, but did acknowledge the Miami fans with waves on his way off the field.
Scoring Florida 0 3 7 0 10 Miami 7 10 7 3 27Notes: TE Buck Ortega made his first career start...WR Darnell Jenkins had the hit of the game on the second half opening kickoff as he sent Andre Caldwell to the ground…DE Bryan Pata re-injured his right leg in the third quarter…RB Tyrone Moss saw action in the third quarter after injuring his knee last game…K Jon Peattie was 2-2 on field goals and finished 15/24 on the season…With an attendance of 69,322 it marks the eighth straight sell out for the Peach Bowl… Florida had not allowed a non-offensive touchdown before this game.
NFL Speculation: LB Roger McIntosh, CB Kelly Jennings, and DT Orien Harris will all return for their senior seasons. RB Frank Gore and WR Roscoe Parrish have not made up their mind.
Key Dates: January 15 - Deadline for early entry to NFL Draft; February 2 – Signing day; March 3 – Miami Pro Day
Christopher Stock is a Staff Writer for CanesTime and can be contacted by emailing him at email@example.com.