College Football College Football


A lopsided spring game

'Canes' defense notches 9 sacks, stuffs running backs

Posted: Saturday April 06, 2002 5:09 PM

MIAMI (AP) -- The Miami Hurricanes allowed just four sacks during last year's championship season. They gave up nine of them in Saturday's spring game -- a clear sign of the team's strength and weakness.

The defensive front seven, a group that returns six starters, has established itself as one of the best in the country. The offensive line, a unit that lost three starters and has two other linemen injured, showed that it has plenty of room for improvement.

The offense scored two touchdowns and two field goals, but the defense dominated the game at the Orange Bowl.

In addition to the sacks, the defense allowed just 1.1 yards a carry in the team's final workout before the fall.

"The defensive group is a little bit ahead in some areas," coach Larry Coker said. "For us to be a good team, we've got to run the ball better than we've run it this spring. We have not had consistency this spring."

Quarterback Ken Dorsey, receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. looked sharp, helping to offset the struggling running game.

Much of the negative rushing yardage came on the sacks, but even the top three backs -- Willis McGahee, Jarrett Payton and Quadtrine Hill -- combined for just 91 yards on 33 carries, less than 3 yards a carry.

"We were running the ball on the defense the first two weeks of spring like it was nothing -- like we were running through Nebraska," center Brett Romberg said. "In order for us to win another national championship, we need to establish a running game."

That starts with the offensive line.

All-American tackles Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez and guard Martin Bibla graduated. And Sherko Haji-Rasouli (knee) and Ed Wilkins (shoulder), who split time at the other guard spot last season, missed all of spring practice because of injuries.

Miami also is having to replace tight end Jeremy Shockey, tailback Clinton Portis and fullback Najeh Davenport.

The situation got worse when Frank Gore, who averaged 9 yards a carry as a freshman last season, tore two ligaments in his knee last month. The Hurricanes hope to have him back this fall, but they are counting on McGahee and Payton to handle most of the workload.

McGahee ran 14 times for 40 yards Saturday. Payton, the son of Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, carried 11 times for 29 yards. Hill scored one of the TDs, a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.

"I don't think they have to question themselves too much," said linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who had seven tackles. "They're not going to face too many front sevens like us. I don't mean to brag. They're doing the right things; it's just that we have more intensity and effort."

The defensive linemen and linebackers are shaping up to be Miami's top units. They shined Saturday, even without ends Andrew Williams (knee) and Cornelius Green (ankle).

"This is what we expected from Day 1, even when we just lifting weights," Vilma said. "We came out and showed what we can do. When we get everyone back, we're going to be great."

They might have to. The defense no longer has the luxury of the best secondary in the nation.

Cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph and Markese Fitzgerald and safeties Ed Reed and James Lewis might all get picked on the NFL draft's first day -- leaving the Hurricanes to replace an NFL secondary with mostly underclassmen.

"Sometimes your toughest opponent is the guy you see in practice. We hope it's that way," Coker said.

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