Tall order facing Hurricanes

Back in the spring when Andre Johnson ran routes to the point his calves burned with pain and Jonathan Vilma refused to leave the weight room until there was nothing left in his arms the University of Miami football talked about the need of going that extra step.

Months later the defending national champions Hurricanes – creators of the nation's longest winning steak at 33- are 60 minutes and a victory away from booking a flight to Tempe, Arizona and another national title game. With a win this Saturday in the Orange Bowl the Hurricanes would secure a spot in the Fiesta Bowl opposite the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Standing in the way: the Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3, 3-3).

Before tailing off with three consecutive defeats in November the Hokies were among a handful of unbeaten teams and making a claim for the national title themselves behind a steady running game and swarming defensive unit that ranked first in run defense earlier in the season. Since a victory over Temple the last week of October the Hokies are 1-3 including a 50-42 overtime setback at Syracuse- the same place where the Hurricanes crushed the Orangemen 49-7 to improve to 11-0 on the season.

But UM coach Larry Coker is wise not to start making any travel arrangements. Coker has been in Coral Gables long enough to know the kind of problems the Hokies could present.

"Somebody asked me after the Syracuse game if I was pleased with the way our team was playing. ‘I said well yes because we're in the position I wanted to be in'," said Coker who is 23-0 since assuming the coach job last year. "But saying that it doesn't really mean anything. The only team I know of that has a ticket to the Fiesta Bowl is Ohio State. We still have work to do. I have a lot of respect for (Virginia Tech coach) Frank Beamer and his football team. They will be prepared."

Despite losing the last two games in the series the Hokies are 5-2 against the Hurricanes since the 1995-96 season. Coker was the Hurricanes offensive coordinator on the Butch Davis coaching staff that was winless against Virginia Tech from 1995-99. And this is the same Virginia Tech team that came within a two-point conversion of sending last year's game against Miami to overtime. Trailing 26-18, the Hokies blocked a punt by Freddie Capshaw and returned it for a touchdown. But the Virginia Tech receiver Ernest Wilford dropped a pass in the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt.

Should the Hurricanes avoid an upset they will finish No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and face the Buckeyes for the national title. Although the Hokies were the last team to hand the Hurricanes a Big East defeat – Nov. 13, 1999- before Miami started their current winning streak.

"We know what's at stake," said Coker. "Our kids know what this game means and they will be fired up."

There's a good chance the Hokies will be ready as well.

Despite their late-season slide from the top of the polls the No. 18 AP-ranked Hokies (No. 14 in the ESPN/Coaches poll) will still have plenty of incentive going up against the Hurricanes. With a win Saturday the Hokies would not only derail the Hurricanes title aspirations but secure their fifth 10-win season in school history (all under Beamer). A Virginia Tech win over Miami would also make a mess out of the BCS with No. 4 Georgia and No. 3 Iowa still clinging to national title hopes. Georgia plays Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game, while Iowa has completed their regular season.

But the Hokies should provide any motivation the Hurricanes need.

Virginia Tech running backs Lee Suggs (1,239 rushing yards, 17 TDs) and Kevin Jones (859 rushing yards, 9 TDs) will get their numbers called repeatedly as the Hokies intend to test the Hurricanes run defense. Although it has shown marked improvement in recent weeks the Hurricanes run defense is ranked 70th in the nation, allowing 164.7 yards per game. Virginia Tech's rushing offense is 12th in the nation gaining 223.42 yards a contest.

Jones, who has three 100-yard rushing games this season, had 160 yards against Miami last season. Suggs, sidelined with a torn ACL last season, missed playing against Miami a year ago. Suggs has rushed for over 100 yards in five games this season.

"I couldn't even go to that game," said Suggs. "I just couldn't stand being there and not playing, just watching from the sidelines I tried watching on TV but even that was hard to do."

UM will keep an eye on him for sure.

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