On the right track

After quite possibly putting together their most complete showing of the season Saturday in Tennessee against the Volunteers, the University of Miami Hurricanes are right where they want to be with three regular-season games remaining on the schedule. And apparently all the murmuring coming out of Coral Gables has ceased- at least for now.

A last-second thriller against Florida State, a defensive lapse against West Virginia and an uninspired performance against Rutgers was enough to bring out loads of University of Miami detractors before the team's 26-3 victory over the Volunteers. But even with all the criticism thrown their way, the Hurricanes are on track to play for a second consecutive national championship.

The BCS standings No. 2 Hurricanes (9-0), winners of 31 straight games and ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls, will secure one of two spots in the national title, Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3 in Tempe, Arizona if they close out the regular season with three more victories. Miami has games remaining against Pittsburgh (Nov. 21), Syracuse (Nov. 30) and Virginia Tech (Dec. 7).

As it currently stands Miami would meet BCS No. 2 Ohio State for the national championship. The 11-0 Buckeyes still have games against Illinois (Nov. 16) and Michigan (Nov. 23). Now, a week after dropping in the standings and questioning the amount of respect they receive around the country the Hurricanes are talking about controlling their own destiny.

"We know what it takes. We've been here before," said Miami junior linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who had a team-high seven tackles against the Volunteers. "All that matters right now is winning football games. The rest will take care of itself."

Despite a winning streak that has spanned over two years, the Hurricanes defensive problems- especially in stopping the run- against Florida State and West Virginia earlier in the season caused some concern. West Virginia rushed for a season high 363 yards, while Florida State had 296 against UM. But the Hurricanes defensive unit responded by allowing 218 total yards of offense against the Volunteers, including 74-yard rush on Tennessee's first offensive possession of the game.

Said junior safety Maurice Sikes: "There were a lot of people that had lost faith in us. But we really proved what this football team is made of. We can't worry about what's being said or written. The bottom line is stepping on the football field and taking care of business."

Although Miami encountered some difficulties in the red zone with their offense, a lot of the Hurricanes players- by their own admission- agreed that Saturday's victory over the Volunteers was their most dominating performance of the season. Miami reached inside Tennessee's 20-yard-line four times but had to settle for Todd Sievers' field goals each time.

"We did not finish the way I wanted," said UM coach Larry Coker.

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