- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There’s a serious beating brewing in the capital of college football.

Miami swaggers into town today boasting the nation’s No.2 ranking and a 37-game regular-season winning streak. By the time fifth-ranked Florida State is finished stating its case, don’t be surprised if the Hurricanes leave without both laurels and a sizable chunk of dignity.

“We haven’t been this ready for a game since I got here,” said Seminoles senior Greg Jones, the 255 pounds of thunder to Lorenzo Booker’s 4.35 lightning in the Florida State backfield. “It’s on, baby.”

Actually, it’s only half on. There’s no doubting the electricity from Florida State’s side of things. Between the nation’s top scoring defense (7.4 points) and a surprisingly consistent effort from junior quarterback Chris Rix, the Seminoles (5-0) are playing their best football since 2000, the season that culminated in an Orange Bowl title meeting with Oklahoma.

The Hurricanes (5-0), on the other hand, look ripe for a routing.

Make no mistake, this isn’t the same crew of ‘Canes that spent the last three seasons laying waste to opponents by an average score of 42-15. These ‘Canes spotted Florida a 23-point lead in the Orange Bowl and needed a fourth-down miracle to escape pedestrian West Virginia. Both the Gators and Mountaineers were better last season, when Miami handled them on the road by 25 and 17 points, respectively.

These Hurricanes do not feature a rack of salivating, pocket-imploding, quarterback-taunting monsters on defense. Gone are six of the seven defensive linemen (five to the NFL) who anchored last season’s daunting defense.

The only regular remaining from last season’s rotation is tackle Vince Wilfork, who now looks like he might be a lot more dangerous lining up outside Denny’s. In fact, Miami’s most productive defensive lineman this season, redshirt freshman Baraka Atkins, isn’t slated to start today. Atkins was last seen limping off the field at the Orange Bowl last week against West Virginia, his face streaming with tears. Tears! Can you picture, say, Ray-Ray or Mr. Sapp sobbing?

“They were so good up front last year with their front seven that they let all of their secondary play back and stop the passing game,” said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden of Miami’s revamped front. “Now they have younger guys, and they’ve had to bring those safeties up and get them involved in run defense. … You lose both ways when you do that. You sacrifice size against the run and a body against the pass. Yeah, it doesn’t quite look like it did last year over there.”

Offensively, Miami began the season without last season’s pair of Heisman finalists in the backfield. Quarterback Ken Dorsey, who merely put together a 38-2 record at Miami while the world critiqued his weaknesses, has been replaced by the more talented, and more erratic, Brock Berlin. And Willis McGahee, who shattered every single-season rushing record at Miami, left his slot to Frank Gore.

The smaller, slower, weaker Gore did an adequate job at tailback before blowing his right ACL last week. The Hurricanes’ rushing attack was steady but unspectacular with Gore. Without him, it’s absolutely nonexistent.

With Gore on the sideline and fifth-year senior Jarrett Payton handling the bulk of the tailback duties, Miami rushed for 88 yards on 28 carries against West Virginia, both season lows. Payton, who has spent his career as a third-stringer, will be making his first start today against the Seminoles. And his principal backup will be senior Jason Geathers, a Miami receiver who moonlights at the position when the serious ball-carrying ‘Canes are sidelined.

Between Miami’s shakeup at tailback and Florida State’s formidable front seven, you can pretty well bet the doublewide that the Hurricanes are going to struggle on the ground.

“There’s a reason [Paytons] spent his whole career on the bench,” said Florida State junior defensive end Eric Moore, summing up the situation very succinctly. “They’re going to have to throw it, and we know it.”

Predictability in football usually equals death. And today’s grim reaper is likely to arrive in shades of garnet and gold as the blitzing-with-impunity Seminoles introduce Berlin to the turf at Doak Campbell Stadium. Throw in the fact that 82,000 folks present will be bawling for blood after three consecutive losses to the ‘Canes and you’ve got about the closest recipe for a sure thing you’ll ever get when two top five teams get together.

What Ohio State started in last season’s Fiesta Bowl, Florida State is likely to finish today. And that slamming sound you’ll hear won’t just be Berlin’s backside meeting sod. It’ll be the record book closing on Miami’s latest reign of terror.

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