Tech's special teams provide lift

University of Miami coach Larry Coker has been pleading with his players all week about the dangers of looking past an opponent. Especially when with another victory, the Hurricanes would ink a trip to the national championship game in Tempe, Arizona.

So Coker wants the top-ranked Hurricanes (11-0, 6-0) to put all their energy into facing the No. 18 Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3, 3-3) this Saturday in the Orange Bowl (Dec. 7, 1 p.m.) and not making any arrangements for the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 3. And just like he's done all season Coker is close attention to senior punter Freddie Capshaw. Capshaw hasn't stepped out of line in anyway. But Coker is very aware of whose coming to town and wants Capshaw on his best behavior because anything less could be a problem against the Hokies.

"Virginia Tech plays great special teams. Coach Beamer has really built a foundation with his unit," says Coker. "Their special teams run to the ball extremely well and that is obviously something that we have to be aware of this week." Coker said that the Hurricanes won't spend any more time than usual preparing on special teams. But don't be fooled to think the Hurricanes aren't well-versed on the Hokies' special teams success. Although he added that he has been working with Capshaw all season on trying to improve his timing on punts, Coker reassured that it has nothing to do with Virginia Tech. In an effort to beat the on-coming rushes from opponents, Coker makes sure that Capshaw receives the snap and gets off the punt in 4.2 seconds. "We've talked all season on snapping the ball in 2.1 seconds and getting the ball off in 2.1," said Coker.

Following that pattern would definitely help Capshaw against the Hokies.

Virginia Tech has blocked 97 kicks- in 186 games- since Beamer came on board in 1987, including an NCAA-best 67 in the 1990s. The Hokies have eight blocks against the Hurricanes since the start of the Big East in 1991.

Beamer, speaking earlier this week, would not give out any secrets to what makes the Hokies special teams so special. The only thing Beamer would commit to is that his team just tries to take advantage of any loopholes in an opponent's special teams unit.

"We like to find points wherever we can," said Beamer. "We try to use good people and study it to try to figure out the best way to block kicks. We look at each team and see if we can take advantage of a situation."

Things haven't changed much this season with the Hokies having blocked five punts and two field goals that have led to 29 points. Just last week red-shirt freshman Justin Hamilton blocked and returned a punt for a touchdown in Virginia Tech's 21-9 win over Virginia. Hamilton, who was named Special Teams Player of the Week in the Big East, has two blocked punts this season.

Despite not costing the Hurricanes a game Capshaw's production has slipped this season. The 5-11, 188-pounder from Rock Springs, Wyoming is averaging 40.6 yards in 47 punts. Capshaw has already had three punts blocked. In three prior seasons with the Hurricanes combined Capshaw had two punts blocked. Capshaw entered the season with a career average of 41.6 in 132 punts. In last season's game- a 26-24 UM victory over Virginia Tech- Capshaw had a punt blocked by Brandon Manning that was returned for a touchdown with under six minutes remaining in the game. But the Hokies two-point conversion failed preserving the Hurricanes lead and win.

Capshaw took a lot of heat. But in reality it was the missed blocking assignment by former UM defensive back Markese Fitzgerald that allowed Virginia Tech to reach Capshaw.

Coker isn't worried about his punter.

"Its not really a concern with Freddie. It has more to do with the operation," said Coker. "I time Freddie every day. We just have to get the snap right and be able to protect and then we'll be fine."

The Hokies might have their hands full trying to slow the Hurricanes down on special teams as well. Against Pittsburgh, defensive back Sean Taylor scored on a 74-yard punt return for the opening score of the game after taking a handoff from Roscoe Parrish. Last week, Taylor scored again on a fake-punt pass from Capshaw.

"Miami has great athletes," Beamer said. "They're always dangerous regardless of the situation."

SIEVERS A FINALIST: Sievers, along with Terrence Holt (NC State), Charles Pauley (San Jose State), Glenn Pakulak (Kentucky) and Aris Comeaux (US Military Academy) has been chosen as a finalist for the 2002 Mosi Tatupu Special Teams Award. The winner of the award, created to honor college football's best special teams players, inciding kick returners, coverage specialists, punters and place kickers will be announced Dec. 13. The recipient will also be honored with a trophy during halftime of the Hula Bowl, Feb. 1, 2003.

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