- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Any questions?
Responding to its three-game funk in the fashion befitting a defending champion, No.2 Miami mauled Tennessee 26-3 at Neyland Stadium yesterday, reasserting its right to the nation's top ranking.
Miami came into the game feeling slighted after Associated Press voters dropped it behind Oklahoma in the rankings last week. The demotion helped push Miami behind Oklahoma and Ohio State in the BCS standings, which will determine the teams for this season's national title game at the Fiesta Bowl. But Miami's dominant victory, coupled with Texas A&M;'s upset of the Sooners, dispels any BCS controversy by leaving only the Hurricanes (9-0) and Buckeyes (11-0) undefeated entering the season's closing stretch.
"The computers can't cheat us now," Miami senior center Brett Romberg said after being informed of Oklahoma's loss. "Now, it's all in our hands. If we take care of our business, we'll be in Tempe (Ariz.). And we don't care who's there waiting on us. We're not going down."
Romberg was outspoken in his criticism of his teammates after the Hurricanes survived consecutive scares against Florida State, West Virginia and Rutgers. In all three games, Miami played uninspired football until the fourth quarter, needing final-period rallies to avoid upsets each time.
"A lot of guys were just going through the motions and taking first halves off," said Romberg, the team co-captain and the leading Rimington Award candidate. "I was upset, and I let everybody hear about it all week because that's not Miami football. Today, I was proud of the way we focused and took control right from the start."
The Hurricanes scored on each of their first five possessions, with equal doses of quarterback Ken Dorsey and tailback Willis McGahee (154 yards on 30 carries) burying Tennessee (5-4) in a 19-3 halftime hole.
"We didn't put it in the end zone as often as we'd like, but the first half was as well as we've executed on offense between the 20s all season," said Dorsey, who bolstered his Heisman resume by completing 18 of 35 passes for 245 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. "And, man, the defense was awesome today."
The final margin can't possibly do justice to the physical thrashing administered by the Miami defense. Maligned as being surprisingly soft against the run, Miami's front seven authored a critic-killer against the Vols. After allowing Tennessee tailback Cedric Houston to burn them for a 74-yard run on the game's second play, the Hurricanes spent the remaining 59 minutes living up to their billing as one of the best defensive fronts in college history.
They stiffened after Houston's opening salvo, forcing a Tennessee field goal, and never again allowed the Vols to penetrate their red zone. All told, Miami held the Vols to just 142 yards of offense and nine first downs after the game's opening drive, recording seven sacks and living in Tennessee's backfield long enough to vote in the state's next elections.
"Everybody was saying we couldn't stop the run, so we had to make a statement," said senior defensive tackle William Joseph, one of six Miami defensive linemen expected to be selected in next year's NFL Draft. "Ain't nobody can talk that stuff now, because we whipped them pretty bad."
How bad?
Well, the Hurricanes sent a slew of Tennessee players to the sideline, including junior quarterback Casey Clausen, who re-injured his ankle just before intermission and spent the second half watching the maiming on crutches.
The Vols already had a serious case of the gimps before the game, missing seven starters because of injury. But the 'Canes literally doubled their pain, disabling Clausen, tight end Jason Witten (concussion), linebacker Robert Peace (broken foot), cornerback Willie Miles (concussion), safety Corey Larkins (bruised calf), fullback William Revill (knee) and defensive tackle Greg Jones (elbow).
"We opened it up on them," Miami defensive tackle Matt Walters said. "You don't see an SEC team get manhandled like that real often in their own house. It was really a respect thing. We were motivated today to come in here and take back our respect on the national stage."
The Hurricanes did just that, recording their 31st consecutive victory in no-doubt fashion in front of 107,745 hostile fans. The last team to win 30 or more straight games was Toledo (1969-71). If you don't count the Rockets (and why would you?), the last legitimate team to win 30 or more games was Oklahoma. The Sooners won an astounding 47 straight games under Bud Wilkinson between 1953 and 1957.
These Hurricanes are still a long way from matching the legacy of that group in college football's pantheon. But if the 'Canes decide to spend the rest of the season playing like they did yesterday, it's hard to see Pittsburgh (Nov. 21), Virginia Tech (Dec. 7), Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl?) or anyone else stopping them from becoming the game's first repeat champion since Nebraska (1994-95).
"This team wants to be mentioned in the same sentence with the other great dynasties," Walters said. "If we keep on winning, we've got a chance."

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