Miami's no passing fancy

When they think of the Miami Hurricanes, many college football fans think of star quarterback Ken Dorsey throwing strikes to wideout Andre Johnson and tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr.

When Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis thinks of the Miami Hurricanes, however, he thinks of one of the NCAA's premier ground games.

''If you can't stop the run, you're not going to have a chance to slow them down any at all,'' Chavis said earlier today. ''They've got an outstanding run game, and that's where they start. They want to pound it at you, then hit you with the play-action pass.

''If you have success slowing that down -- which very few people have -- then they'll spread it out and throw it a little bit. But I think there's a misconception when you think of Miami. They're a RUNNING team.''

The Hurricanes' running game was supposed to slip a bit when superstar tailback Frank Gore was injured but 6-foot-1, 220-pound sophomore Willis McGahee has filled the void quite capably. In fact, he's emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 1,034 yards and 16 touchdowns in Miami's first eight games. He also has caught 16 passes for 301 yards, an eye-popping 18.8 yards-per-catch average.

How good is he? Well, Chavis says he reminds him of ex-Vol Chuck Webb.

In addition to McGahee, Miami's offense boasts another Heisman candidate in Dorsey, who has completed 134 of 244 passes for 2,020 yards and 20 touchdowns. His top targets are Winslow (32 catches, 405 yards, 12.7 ypc average) and Johnson (28 catches, 489 yards, 17.5 ypc).

Asked if Miami's offense reminds him of any other attacks, Chavis offered a surprising response.

''Probably the closest comparison I could make would be Tennessee,'' the coordinator said. ''Their offense is a lot like the Tennessee offense, as far as running the football, play-action pass and having the capability of spreading it out. When we've been at our best, that's what we've looked like.''

Although Miami has the patience to string together a 15-play drive, the Hurricanes are better known for their quick-strike abilities. They sometimes seem sluggish for a half or so, then erupt with a barrage of points. Such was the case against FSU, when Miami scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to win by a point. The 'Canes staged another late-game eruption last Saturday against Rutgers, scoring four fourth-quarter TDs.

Asked about Miami's knack for seeming punchless at times and unstoppable at other times, Chavis deadpanned: ''If you've got to play 'em, you hope they don't hit on all eight cylinders THE WHOLE GAME.

''They've made some mistakes and had some penalties that have stopped drives early in ballgames,'' he added. ''But they have big-play potential and, when you've got those kind of weapons on offense, you know it's easy to get it going.''

Obviously, the Hurricanes will offer a severe test for the Vol defense this Saturday at 3:30. When a team can lose a Frank Gore and plug in a Willis McGahee, that's downright scary. Tennessee's coaching staff isn't conceding defeat just yet, though.

''They've recruited well; they've got great players,'' Chavis said. ''We've done the same thing at Tennessee. We're going to be able to put some very good players out there, so we'll just see how we match up.''

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