At a meeting in the team hotel last Saturday, Shannon challenged his charges to hold Tennessee under 200 yards of total offense. They didn't help their cause by giving up a 78-yard run on the second play from scrimmage. Junior strong safety Maurice Sikes blitzed into the wrong gap, and Volunteers tailback Cedric Houston was on his way.
Three good things came of it for Miami. With a stunning burst, redshirt freshman cornerback Kelly Jennings overtook Houston, riding him down at the four-yard line. The Hurricanes' defense held, forcing the Vols to settle for a field goal. Afterward, Sikes could be seen going up and down the sideline, tendering apologies to anyone who would listen.
Miami's defense has officially recovered its mojo. Tennessee eked out 140 yards—and zero points—the rest of the way. Ravaged with injuries this season, the Vols lost three more starters on Saturday, including quarterback Casey Clausen, who spent the second half on crutches. "Not good offensively," said Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer afterward of his team. "Couldn't block anybody." On days the wind blows east to west in Knoxville, Volunteers fans have been known to point out that "it could just be Vanderbilt sucking down in Nashville." On Saturday the wind blew out of the southwest, and it was the Vols' turn to suck.
On the other hand, Miami may simply have been that good. The Hurricanes looked much sharper offensively than they did during most of the past month. This was in part a delayed reaction to a speech delivered to the team on the eve of the Rutgers game by New York Giants linebacker Micheal Barrow, a former Hurricanes All-America. "He talked about how dealing with success can be even tougher than dealing with losing," recalls left guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli. Barrow's address resonated with Haji-Rasouli and center Brett Romberg, fifth-year seniors who entered the program on the heels of Miami's last losing season, 1997, when the Canes went 5-6. "Coming off that season we were in the film room at all hours," says Haji-Rasouli. "Right now we're a tremendously conditioned team, but I think somewhere along the way we lost our sense of urgency, lost a little bit of our edge."
While he and Romberg made it their business to spread the gospel of urgency, what really got the Hurricanes' attention was getting knocked down in the BCS. "Guys don't want to talk about it," says Haji-Rasouli, "but that motivated us. Now we're back with that hunger, with that edge."
You want edge? Visit Dorsey after the game at his stall in the visitors' locker room. Even as he has emerged as a Heisman Trophy front-runner (along with teammate Willis McGahee, who rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown against the Vols), the senior has become a popular target for criticism. "I've definitely had to become better this year at not reading newspapers," he says. "Not everybody likes me."
His detractors point out that he has completed 54.9% of his passes in 2002, down from each of his previous two seasons. They make the point that his arm is not as powerful as those of some of the Hurricanes' legendary quarterbacks—Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde—most or all of whose records he has broken or will break. The critics say he isn't even the best player in his own backfield.
Really? If McGahee goes down, Miami will find someone to get yards on the ground. If they lose Dorsey, who is the quarterback? Can the Hurricanes win a national title with Derrick Crudup? All Dorsey has done is go 35-1 as a starter in his career, preside over a 31-game winning streak, throw 78 touchdown passes and earn the absolute confidence of his teammates.
Sitting by his locker an hour after the game, Dorsey artfully sidestepped a Heisman discussion as he signed baseball caps for Tennessee state troopers. "The biggest award I can get," he said, "is going to battle with the guys on this team. My focus is winning games, and if people don't like me for winning, that's their problem."
It was a powerful statement following a powerful statement.