And the Washington Huskies are headed for the Orange Bowl, riding the wake of a 26-14 Apple Cup victory cross-state rival Washington State.
Only this time, there won't be a booty-shaking, fireworks-driven halftime show. The game won't even be shown to a nation-wide audience. It will be Washington's first after-WSU regular season game in 53 years, and there will only be a few thousand Husky fans making the 3,300-mile trek with the team. But there will certainly be a top-ranked team standing on the opposing sidelines. The home sidelines.
Husky coach Rick Neuheisel notices how short the wake-ride was. "We can't feel too good for long," said Neuheisel on Monday, "because we have a huge challenge ahead of us . . . Miami is ranked number one and it is obvious that's where they belong."
The Hurricanes -- currently ranked second in the BCS standings, with only Washington and Virginia Tech standing in the way of a national title game appearance –- have been pointing to this one for 441 days. Flash back to a cool and cloudy Husky Stadium last September, where a swarming defense and 74,000 woofing fans helped turn the fourth-ranked Hurricanes into a tropical depression. Though no one knew it at the time, the Huskies' 34-29 win would dash Miami's National Championship hopes that day.
But they haven't lost since, a streak of 19 games -- currently the nation's best. Not even when maybe they should have -- most notably in Chestnut Hill on November 10 where, with 35 seconds left in the game, the visiting ‘Canes held a tenuous 12-7 lead and heavy underdog Boston College, poised for a monumental upset, lined up first-and-goal at the Miami nine. Then, in a scene almost as bizarre as wrong-way Roy Riegels' ill-fated dash, Eagles' QB Brian St. Claire fired a quick slant that ricocheted off of Mike Rumph's knee and into the hands of defensive tackle Mike Walters, who commenced to lumbering. Just as it appeared that Walters would drop to the ground, safety Ed Reed ran up from behind, snatched the ball away from him, and sped the rest of the 80 yards to pay dirt.
Miami, who hadn't really been tested before then, had survived. "I'm glad (the BC game) happened that way," Hurricane QB Ken Dorsey would say later. "We showed we were able to get through some fire, and overcome."
"Now, we're FINALLY going to play Washington again," says Dorsey. "And it means a lot, not only because of last year, but because they're standing in the way of our being National Champions."
First-year Miami coach Larry Coker sensed from the first practice after the BC scare that his team wanted to show their colors against 14th-ranked Syracuse. And overwhelmingly, they did. "I think this team felt challenged, by the media and by themselves," said Coker after his ‘Canes crushed the Orangemen 59-0 to all but clinch the Big-East championship outright. "This team is scary when they are clicking on all cylinders. It was by far our best overall effort. There are some doubters around the country, and I think we quieted them a bit."
"Our practices this week are already showing how important this is to our guys. They're really stepping it up."
The Hurricanes are the only team with players on both sides of the ball named as Football News Player-of-the-Year finalists (Reed on defense, Bryant McKinnie on offense). And now, two steps away from reaching the only goal they've had since the season started, Miami seeks not only retribution for an 0-2 lifetime record against the Huskies -- they seek to stamp legitimacy on their number-one voter-poll ranking and continue their march to the very field where Washington stood victorious last January.
Miami Hurricanes Two-Deeps
Washington Huskies Two-Deeps
TEAM STATS: 42.7 points, 467.3 yards (210.1 rush, 257.2 pass)
RUSHING: Clinton Portis 174-971-7 TD (5.6), Frank Gore 50-497-5 TD (9.9)
PASSING: Ken Dorsey 149-253-8, 2228 yards, 19 TD
RECEIVING: Jeremy Shockey 35-447-6 TD (12.8), Andre Johnson 32-615-9 TD (19.2)
No doubt about it, there's some large numbers to look at when discussing the Hurricane offense. Since falling to UCLA in the 1985 Fiesta Bowl, Miami has run off 118 straight wins when it has scored 31 or more points. And until the Boston College scare, the ‘Canes scored at least that many in all of their previous wins, ranking third in the nation in scoring and sixth overall in total offense.
Heisman Trophy candidate Ken Dorsey (6-5, 200) had a forgettable day in his road debut against Washington last year, but the junior has won 19 straight games since -- the longest current streak for any Division 1-A starting quarterback. Even with the four picks he suffered against BC, Dorsey still has a better than 2-to-1 TD/INT ratio and seems certain to surpass his 2,737-yard sophomore season with two games left. Barring injury, Dorsey should become Miami's all-time leading passer next year –- if he chooses to stay in school. He already owns the school's career touchdown-passes mark. RS-freshman Derrick Crudup (6-1, 202) has thrown 17 passes in mop-up roles, and still seeks his first touchdown pass.
Junior running back Clinton Portis (5-11, 202) is already fourth on the all-time Miami rushing list, even though he only became a full-time starter this year. Portis should pass the 1,000-yard mark this week, and another such effort his senior year will put Portis at the top of the list. His career-best is a season-opening 164-yard effort against Penn State, and he ran for 132 against Syracuse. Last year he broke off a 61-yard run and a 59-yard screen against the Huskies. A pair of youngsters are ready to step into the Hurricane spotlight – Redshirt freshman Willis McGahee (6-1, 220) and true freshman Frank Gore (5-10, 190), who have nearly 800 yards between them and seven touchdowns. Gore, who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards as a high school senior, ran wild against the Orangemen, finishing with 153 yards on eleven carries. Gore also had a pair of long TD runs against West Virginia. McGahee is hobbled by a knee injury, and is questionable. Senior Najeh Davenport (6-2, 242) could forty in under 4.4 before his knee injury a couple of years back. But at 14 yards per catch, Davenport is still a load to deal with as a receiver out of the backfield.
Senior world-class sprinter Daryl Jones (5-10, 182) has had an injury-riddled campaign with only 10 receptions and is still hobbling, though he wants to start on senior day. Sophomore Andre Johnson (6-3, 212) has emerged as the deep threat, averaging 19 yards per catch to go with his nine scores (two against Syracuse). Junior Ethenic Sands (6-0, 175), a wide receiver-turned QB-turned wide receiver, and sophomore Kevin Beard (6-2, 179) support ably, combining for 43 receptions with nearly identical numbers. All-American junior tight end Jeremy Shockey (6-6, 246), probably NFL-bound next year, is the ‘Canes leading receiver while averaging a healthy 13 yards per catch. Shockey also reeled in a pair of TDs against the Orangemen. Says coach Coker of Shockey: "He's the example of what I want the rest of my team to be in terms of intensity. He'll block his opponent into the ground, then turn and block everyone in the stands if he could." Shockey achieved a rare feat in that he was named first-team All Big East last year even though he wasn't once listed as a starter.
The front five are considered the best in all of College football. As a unit, they have allowed TWO sacks all season -- one by the second unit, and one on a missed blitz pick-up. Senior tackles Joaquin Gonzalez (6-5, 294) and Bryant McKinnie (6-9, 336) are simply the best pass-protection duo in the country. McKinnie, regarded by nearly everyone as the top offensive lineman in the nation and an Outland Trophy favorite, has yet to allow a sack in his Hurricane career -- including a complete shutout of Syracuse's record-setting sacker Dwight Freeney. Gonzalez, a former walk-on, has started 44 straight games and allowed only three sacks in three years. Junior Brett Romberg (6-3, 289) is in his second season as the Miami center. Guard Martin Bilba (6-4, 206) was also a pre-season All-American pick, and makes his 40th start. Regular starter Sherko Haji-Rasouli is lost for the season after knee surgery, so junior Ed Wilkins (6-4, 308) steps in at the other guard. Wilkins will play Saturday with a broken finger suffered last week against Syracuse, and has three previous starts.
TEAM STATS: 8.0 points, 271.1 yards (132.8 rush, 138.3 pass)
TACKLES/TFL: Jonathan Vilma 60/4, Matt Walters 52/6, William Joseph 46/16
SACKS: Joseph 7, Jamaal Green 5, John Square 4
INTERCEPTIONS: Edward Reed 7, Phillip Buchanon 4
The numbers aren't much softer on the defensive side of the ball, either. First-year defensive coordinator Randy Shannon's unit is a spectacular +33 in turnovers over their last 19 games. Miami leads the nation (by far) in scoring defense, they rank third in pass-efficiency defense, and are seventh overall in total defense.
Junior Jamaal Green (6-3, 257) is the QB-hunter from the end. Green has five sacks (14 on his career) and six tackles-for-loss, while ultra-quick RS-freshman John Square (6-5, 201) has four as the speed-rusher in passing downs. Square, who made his mark when senior Cornelius Green went down early with a foot injury, scored his first career touchdown with a five-yard fumble return against Rutgers. Junior Jerome McDougle (6-2, 260) is the ‘Canes second-leading TFL'er and has three sacks –- one of 15 different Miami defenders that have at least one –- and has a mind-blowing 35 QB hurries. A pair of juniors start inside; William Joseph (6-5, 282) starts his 34th straight game and leads the ‘Canes with seven sacks and 16 TFLs, while Matt Walters (6-5, 262) heads the defensive line in total tackles. Walters' freakish BC interception was the first of his career. Huge RS-freshman Vince Wilfork (6-2, 345) already holds the school's indoor shot-put record. He got his first career sack against Penn State, and has ten stops behind the line.
Sophomore D.J. Williams (6-2, 243), SuperPrep's top-rated national recruit in 1999 from De La Salle, was a freshman that HAD to get on the field early, so last year Miami used him where they had a need -- at fullback -- knowing full well that he'd be starting at his normal linebacker spot this season. Williams had four primary stops against Penn State in his debut. Sophomore Jonathan Vilma (6-2, 220) is Miami's leading tackler, and invokes favorable comparisons with last year's All-American Dan Morgan. Vilma has forced two fumbles and recovered a pair, including one he returned 36-yards for a TD against Florida State. Senior Chris Campbell (6-2, 227) will be starting his 30th consecutive game on the strong side, and is two tackles shy of 200 for his career. Campbell was probably Miami's top defender last year against Washington.
The corners are as experienced as they are fast. Senior co-captain Mike Rumph (6-2, 190) is an incumbent All-Big East first-teamer, owning six interceptions and 153 career tackles in his 33 starts. Junior Phillip Buchanon (5-11, 182) has four interceptions -- including a 79-yarder for a score last week against Syracuse –- to go with a pair of fumble recoveries. He also returned an INT 78 yards for a score last year. Senior Edward Reed (6-0, 198) is the probable front-runner for the Jim Thorpe award, owning the school record with 19 career interceptions (seven this season, including TD returns against Troy State and Boston College). Reed leads the DBs with 15 passes defended, and has 260 career tackles. Says the All-American of his knack for the pick: "I'm probably not the best out there, but I just have ‘the feel'. I know where it's going to go." It's clear they know what to do with the ball when they grab it -- Reed and Buchanon have a combined 352 yards in INT-returns between them. Senior James Lewis (5-11, 190) is Miami's third-leading tackler, has 121 career stops, and returned an interception 74 yards for a score against West Virginia. The primary nickel back is senior Markese Fitzergald (5-11, 184), who has four career interceptions. Fitzgerald scored against the Seminoles on a five-yard return of a punt blocked by Reed, and has forced three fumbles this year.
PLACE KICKING: Todd Sievers 17-20 FG (long 48), 45-47 XP
PUNTING: Freddie Capshaw 28-41.9 (long 59), 11 inside-20
KICK RETURNS: Andre Johnson 11-19.6, Buchanon 2-15.0
PUNT RETURNS: Buchanon 26-16.7 (2 TD, long 59)
Junior place-kicker Todd Sievers (6-3, 214) is having an All-American season. Sievers leads all of Division 1-A in kick scoring, and has only missed three times this season –- one from 53-yards out. He's also hit two 50-yard extra points (following Miami double-celebration fouls) in his career. Sievers was named the Big East special-teams player-of-the-week for his four-FG performances against Penn State and Boston College. Junior punter Freddie Capshaw (5-11, 186) doesn't have to punt much, but is effective when he does, averaging nearly 42-yards per punt with an inside-the-20 rate of over 35-percent. As Sievers' holder, Capshaw scored a TD against Florida State after a botched FG attempt.
Phillip Buchanon, with TD returns against Temple and Rutgers, is the nation's second-leading punt-returner, with three 50-plus returns this year – including a season-long 59-yarder last week. Buchanon and Andre Johnson handle the kick-return duties, though neither has come close to breaking one. Reed is the only Hurricane with a blocked kick this season. Miami has allowed only 34 punt return yards in nine games.
The All-PAC-10 football team will be announced Monday, November 26, by a vote of all conference coaches . . . This will be the first time Washington has faced an AP poll number-one since 1972 (a 34-7 loss to USC). The Huskies are 9-9 against top-10 teams since 1990. Over the same time span, Miami is 27-22 against top-tens . . . Though the all-time Orange Bowl record crowd of 81,753 won't be approached, 70,000-plus is expected on Saturday night. Seating capacity is just over 72,000 . . . Washington has only allowed five scores in the 19 turnovers they have coughed up. Miami has scored 19 times in 33 opponent turnovers (including five that ended halves) . . . Cody Pickett needs 323 passing yards to surpass Cary Conklin as the all-time single-season leader. Not bad, considering Pickett missed a game-and-a-half. He's almost a shoo-in to break the yards-per-game record . . . Reggie Williams now owns the Washington freshman receiving yardage record -- by 474 yards. Williams is tops in the country in freshman receiving-yard average at 88.8 per game . . . Should Oregon State upset Oregon on December 1, it would create the first-ever four-way tie for the conference championship. Speaking of which, Ken Simonton needs 113 yards in the game to become the PAC-10's first-ever 1,000-yard rusher in four consecutive seasons . . . Syracuse is now the proud owner of the top TWO all-time routs between ranked schools. Before Miami's 59-0 squeezing, the Orangemen dropped a 62-0 decision to fourth-ranked Virginia Tech in 1999 when ranked #16 . . .
(Ed. Note – written with heartfelt respect to everyone and anyone whose lives were forever changed by the tragedy and senselessness that was September 11, 2001, and with the knowledge that this game was rescheduled from September 15. Rick Samek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)