Big East Report

Miami coach Larry Coker tried to head off a quarterback controversy a day after the Hurricanes' 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech by stating that junior Brock Berlin, who has started all eight games, would keep his job.

Berlin was pulled in the third quarter Saturday after throwing two interceptions and getting sacked three times in a loss to Virginia Tech. He left with his team trailing 24-0. He was 16-for-25 for 165 yards, but the turnovers were killers. The Hokies returned one for a touchdown and the other to the 10-yard line to set up another TD.

Derrick Crudup came in and threw another interception but was 13-for-21 for 97 yards, and he added another dimension to the offense with his running. He carried six times for a net 38 yards, suffering only one sack for a yard loss. He helped the Hurricanes avoid their first shutout since a 47-0 loss to Florida State in 1997 by hooking up with RB Jason Geathers for a 10-yard touchdown pass.

Coker's comments, however, indicated that if not a starting role, Crudup might be in line for more playing time. He has played in only five games, mostly in mop-up roles.

"Derrick came in and did a good job," Coker said. "He did some things with his feet we haven't had before."

Redshirt freshman WR Ryan Moore responded to an earlier challenge from Coker to the wideouts with eight catches for 102 yards against the Hokies. He needs to come up big in the remaining four games if the Hurricanes are to recover from their loss.

Miami had several winning streaks end in the loss. Coming in, they had won 39 in a row in the regular season, 27 in the Big East and 18 on the road.

The Hurricanes' own mistakes contributed mightily to the loss in Blacksburg.

Tech scored its first points when WR Roscoe Parrish was stripped of the ball by CB DeAngelo Hall, who returned it for a touchdown. The Hokies added a field goal just before halftime after a foolish personal foul penalty on Miami moved them 15 yards closer. Two shanked punts cost the Hurricanes field position, and they had a field goal attempt blocked ... as well as a sure touchdown pass dropped in the end zone.

The miscues overcame the statistical advantage Miami enjoyed. The Hurricanes had more first downs (21-11), more passing yardage (211-44), more total offense (377-219) and a better third-down conversion percentage (8-of-19 to Tech's 2-of-12).

"But the real important statistic was the score," Coker said.

Miami's defense performed remarkably well, despite what the score indicates. Tech got two defensive touchdowns, benefited from a 15-yard personal foul call to get into position for a field goal, and had to go only 10 yards for yet another touchdown. The Hurricanes held the Hokies to only 219 yards total offense. Of the 31 points the Hokies scored, only 10 could be attributed to Miami's defensive shortcomings.

LB Jonathan Vilma was in on nine tackles but more importantly, seemed to keep the defense inspired as Miami's offense continued to make costly mistakes. FS Sean Taylor, who sat out the Temple game after having surgery, was the game's top tackler with 10. Taylor had a shoulder injury in the game, which doesn't look serious.

The Hurricanes, 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big East, will try to regroup Saturday against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, where they have a 26-game home winning streak. If they win out, they can still win the Big East's automatic BCS bid. And with a lot of football left, a spot in the national title game can't be counted out yet, either.

Coker is ready to put the loss behind him and the team, "The job we have to do is get this behind us. We have a 24-hour rule. We celebrate victories for 24 hours, and we're upset by losses for 24 hours. Now we've got to look ahead to Tennessee."

BOSTON COLLEGE

Boston College has played two Big East games since announcing it was accepting an invitation to leave the league and join the Atlantic Coast Conference ... and the Eagles have lost both.

The latest was Saturday, when they couldn't add to a three-point halftime lead and lost 24-13 to Pittsburgh. They had lost to Syracuse in their first outing after the announcement and sandwiched a victory over Notre Dame in between. Despite a 119-yard rushing day by RB Derrick Knight and a defense that held Pittsburgh to only 124 yards on the ground, the Eagles fell to 1-3 in Big East play and 5-4 overall.

Two big plays in the second half were all the Panthers needed. One was a 47-yard screen pass for a touchdown from QB Rod Rutherford to TB Jawan Walker that made it 17-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles responded with an apparent touchdown thanks to runs of 22 and 41 yards by Knight on consecutive plays, but the second was nullified by a holding penalty at the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. Then a sack and a loss on an option play virtually ended the drive.

Pittsburgh then came out and scored the clinching touchdown on a tailback option pass from Walker to WR Larry Fitzgerald that gave the Panthers an 11-point cushion.

The loss put the Eagles' bowl hopes somewhat in jeopardy. They need one more victory to become bowl eligible with a home game against West Virginia coming up followed by trips to Rutgers and Virginia Tech. But finishing 6-6 would put them low on the food chain.

"In the third quarter, we made one first down. The next time we came out, we dropped a pass on first down. We overthrew a pass on first down. We weren't able to sustain anything those two series. At the same point, the defense had trouble getting off the field," said O'Brien, on his team's second-half woes.

RUTGERS

The last time Rutgers was 4-4 this deep into the season the Knights stumbled home to a 5-6 record after losing two of their last three games of 1998. This little bit of history is something they should keep in mind as they enter the season's final month.

Perhaps giddy from their victory over Temple on Oct. 24, a win that snapped a 25-game Big East losing streak, the Knights are now talking about winning at least two of their remaining games to become bowl eligible.

Bowl eligible? Rutgers?

The Knights haven't appeared in a post-season game since 1978, when they lost to Arizona State 34-18 in the now-defunct Garden State Bowl. It is the longest drought any current Big East member has experienced, though Temple comes close. The Owls haven't played in a bowl game since playing in the Garden State Bowl the year after Rutgers. They beat California 28-17 in that game.

With Notre Dame on the verge of a losing season and thus missing a claim on one of the Big East's five automatic bids, the Knights would seem to be getting a boost to their hopes. But first they must take care of their own business, starting Saturday when they go to Connecticut.

If they pull off a mini-upset in that game, the Knights, now 1-3 in the conference, then would have to come up with another upset from among their remaining games against Boston College (at home), Miami (on the road) and Syracuse (at home).

QB Ryan Hart, the sophomore who was thrown into a starting role late last season as a true freshman, just keeps improving. His 243.9-yards-per-game average passing ranks only behind Pittsburgh's Rod Rutherford in the Big East. He is completing 59.1 percent of his passes (156-for-264) and has 11 touchdown throws, more than twice what Ryan Cubit had to lead the team in 2002. The only negative: Hart needs to cut down on interceptions. He has been picked off 13 times.

Freshman RB Justise Hairston has been a major reason for the Knights' improvement in the running game. He is averaging 78 yards per game, fifth best in the Big East. Despite missing the victory over Temple because of injury, Hairston has 546 yards rushing, which tops the 470 that Markis Facyson had last season to lead the team.

The running game has been the biggest improvement the Knights have made. They are averaging 128 yards a game on the ground, not eye-popping but certainly a big jump over the 51.7 they averaged last season.

The run defense, on the other hand, needs some work. The Knights have improved since last season, when opponents hit them for 207 yards a game on the ground. But they still need to tighten up. They are giving up 173.5 yards rushing per game, most of any team in the league except Temple.

When asked of the possibility of Rutgers getting bowl eligible by winning two of their four remaining games, Coach Greg Shiano said, "The opportunity is there. You have to be in a position. We're in position. We have four good teams we have to play. We have to play against good competition. Hopefully, the results will be what we want."

SYRACUSE

The season has reached a critical point for Syracuse. At 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big East, the Orangemen, coming off a bye, face a stretch run that starts Saturday with a home game against Temple.

That would seem to be about as close to a lock as the Orangemen could have at this point, but after that, the Orangemen go to Miami. That's pretty much a lock the other way for the Orangemen, who then would need one victory in remaining games against West Virginia, Rutgers and Notre Dame to become bowl eligible.

The Orangemen have been on a roller coaster in October.

The month started with a 51-7 humiliation at Virginia Tech. The Orangemen rebounded from that for a 39-14 victory over Boston College. Back on the road the week after that, the Orangemen lost 34-14 at Pittsburgh on Oct. 25.

In that last loss, Syracuse got off to a 14-7 lead but simply couldn't contain Pittsburgh's air attack, which was led by WR Larry Fitzgerald (eight catches, 149 yards). Syracuse's offense, meanwhile, pretty much was bottled up from the second quarter on, netting only 195 yards for the afternoon.

QB R.J. Anderson (7-for-18 passing against the Panthers) needs to regain the form he demonstrated in getting his team off to a 4-2 start. The passing game was pretty much absent in the loss to Pittsburgh. Anderson passed for only 49 yards and threw his first two interceptions of the season. It was particularly disappointing because Anderson had shown a big improvement over 2002.

Looking at the rest of Syracuse's schedule after last weekend's open date, Coach Paul Pasqualoni remarked, "We have a very difficult stretch coming up - Temple, Miami, West Virginia, Rutgers and Notre Dame. We're going to go from next week to Dec. 6 straight through without a break."

TEMPLE

Temple was off last weekend, which could help the Owls get back some ailing players ... but that doesn't look to be enough to reverse their fortunes.

The Owls fell into last place in the Big East in their last outing when they lost to Rutgers 30-14 on Oct. 25. It sure doesn't look as if Temple can climb out of that hole, not with road games at Syracuse and West Virginia and home games against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.

Statistics reflect the Owls' frustrations.

They are last in the league in total offense (343.6 yards per game) and defense (449.4), last in rushing offense (105.0), last in rushing defense (189.8), last in scoring (18.9 points per game) and last in scoring defense (31.6 ppg). They are converting only 26.3 percent of their third downs (31-of-118) while letting opponents convert at a 41.4 percent rate (46-of-111). Both figures are league worsts.

The figure for rushing defense is especially revealing. Last season the Owls led the Big East in rushing defense, surrendering only 108.3 yards per game on the ground. That ranked 15th-best nationally.

Their passing game ranks fourth in the Big East with an average of 238.6 yards through the air. QB Mike McGann (elbow) should be healthy by Saturday, but Walter Washington, who took over when McGann was injured in the second quarter against Rutgers, still may get more playing time. A junior college transfer with three seasons of eligibility, Washington is looking to take over the starting role. Several other Owls have been nursing minor injuries and should be OK by Saturday.

In addition to their woeful stats on offense and defense, the Owls aren't getting the job done on special teams. They rank last in the league in field goal kicking, converting only 7-of-18 attempts for a success rate of 38.9 percent.

Unless there is a sudden jelling of all the junior college transfers (nearly two dozen) that came into the program this season, the Owls have little chance of matching the four wins they had last season. They are 1-7 overall, 0-3 in the conference, going into Saturday's game at Syracuse.

"Offensively, we've just gone backwards over the last month." - Coach Bobby Wallace, looking at his team's three-game losing streak.

VIRGINIA TECH

Dejected after an embarrassing loss at West Virginia in its previous outing, Virginia Tech rebounded in spectacular fashion, thumping Miami 31-7 and seizing the opportunity to rejoin the BCS bowl picture.

Opportunistic would be the most appropriate description of the Hokies' play.

CB DeAngelo Hall, who had riled some with his pregame assessment that this Miami team didn't measure up to those of recent seasons, made the game's first big play when he stripped WR Roscoe Parrish of the ball, grabbed it in midair and scampered 28 yards for the game's first touchdown.

The offense managed to generate only a field goal in the first half, that a direct benefit of a 15-yard penalty against Miami that put the Hokies within Carter Warley's range. QBs Marcus Vick and Bryan Randall were a combined 2-for-8 passing with only one of the receptions for plus yardage.

Vick, a redshirt freshman, came off the bench late in the first quarter and gave his team a much-needed lift, although he didn't get the Hokies into the end zone until late in the third quarter. He ended the night with 33 yards rushing on six carries. Although he was only 2-for-5 passing, one was a 46-yard touchdown pass to WR Ernest Wilford for the Hokies' final touchdown.

Holding a 10-0 halftime lead despite generating only 127 yards (all on the ground), the Hokies added to their margin when CB Eric Green, getting a start because of an injury to regular Garnell Wilds, intercepted a pass and returned it 51 yards for a 17-0 advantage. Then LB Michael Crawford picked off yet another throw by Miami's Brock Berlin and returned it 36 yards to the Miami 10-yard line. RB Kevin Jones scored in two plays ... and that essentially was the ballgame.

The game was classic "Beamer Ball," with the Hokies blocking a Miami field goal attempt, the 101st blocked kick in 196 games under coach Frank Beamer. At the time, the game was scoreless. The fumble return and interception run back for a touchdown were the ninth and 10th non-offensive touchdowns for the Hokies this season, tops in the nation.

The result jumbled up both the BCS and Big East. Miami was No. 2 in the country and was headed toward a date in the national title game, but now the Hurricanes' chances of a Sugar Bowl berth seem fairly slim. At 7-1, Tech is among the one-loss teams looking for a shot, but that, too, isn't likely because of the Hokies' soft schedule ... although Tech is in fine shape for the Big East's automatic spot in a BCS game.

Technically, though, the Hokies aren't in control of their own destiny in the conference race.

By winning out, they would finish 6-1 in their final season in the Big East, a record that would be matched by West Virginia if the Mountaineers win their remaining four league games. The Mountaineers own a victory over the Hokies, but the BCS bid probably would still go to the Hokies in case of a tie. Conference rules state that even if a team wins the head-to-head matchup but is ranked more than five positions below the other in the BCS standings, the higher ranked team gets the bid. Tech likely will be ranked far ahead of West Virginia, which is only 4-4 overall.

Of course, if Tech, now 3-1 in the Big East, loses at league-leader Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Hokies are out of the picture.

Beamer said of the rout of Miami, "When things have been so rough for 10 days, it makes one like this that much better."

WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia struggled all day to get UCF under control, not securing Saturday's 36-18 victory over the Knights until scoring 17 points -- including a 79-yard touchdown pass from backup QB Charles Hales to WR Chris Henry -- in the fourth quarter.

The Mountaineers, who evened their record at 4-4 (2-1 Big East) and stamped themselves a contender for a postseason bid in the process, never trailed in the game, but saw the visitors close to within 19-11 on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 5:14 left in the third quarter.

When starting QB Rasheed Marshall went out with a concussion on the ensuing series, it made for a nervous time for the homecoming crowd, especially when his backup, Hales, lost a fumble on a third-down run on his first series.

But early in the fourth quarter, junior DB Jerry White broke through to block a UCF punt, and redshirt freshman DB Joe Hunter recovered for a touchdown that seemed to deflate the Knights. On its next series, West Virginia caught UCF defenders by surprise when Hales went deep to Henry for a 79-yard scoring play that broke the game open.

Senior RB Quincy Wilson contributed with 24 carries for 135 yards in the victory. He ripped off two runs of better than 40 yards, the second a 46-yard dash that got the Mountaineers out from deep in their own territory on the way to their first touchdown.

West Virginia continues to pound foes with a punishing running game. The Mountaineers had 303 yards on the ground against UCF with Wilson's 135 followed by RB Kay-Jay Harris' 61 on 10 carries and QB Rasheed Marshall's 37 on 13.

Suddenly a contender in the Big East race with Miami's loss, the Mountaineers get back into a conference play Saturday with a trip to Boston College. Having split with Virginia Tech (a victory) and Miami (a near victory), the Mountaineers will get the league-leader Pittsburgh at Morgantown on Nov. 15. Winning out would assure the Mountaineers of no worse than a tie for the title.

It's a good thing the running game is working, because the Mountaineers can't rely on their passing game. Marshall was picked off once and was only 8-for-15 passing for 73 yards. Hales showed flashes that he might merit more playing time, as he completed his only two throws for 88 yards. One bright note was WR Chris Henry's play. The sophomore had five catches for 123 yards in West Virginia's victory, including a 79-yard pass play from Hales. He is averaging 26.1 yards per catch with five touchdown grabs.

"I didn't think we played very well or with the same intensity as our last game," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It's good to get a win even though we didn't execute."

"I was really proud of our special teams. It was the first time we scored all year on defense or special teams."

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