Backing up their claim that they deserve a share of the national championship, the Miami Hurricanes stormed past rival Florida to win the Nokia Sugar Bowl 37-20 in New Orleans.
Fullback Najeh Davenport scored two touchdowns and quarterback Ken Dorsey threw for 270 yards in the Hurricanes’ first game against the Gators in 13 years.
No. 2 Miami has been vocal about its belief that it deserved to be in Wednesday night’s Orange Bowl, the Bowl Championship Series national title game, and should share the national championship if it triumphed over Florida.
With the win — Miami’s 10th-straight this season — the Hurricanes gave The Associated Press writers reason to name them No. 1 in their poll. However, the issue is moot if No. 1 Oklahoma defeats No. 3 Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
“We beat the No. 1 team in the nation, the No. 2 team in the nation and six teams with winning records,” Miami coach Butch Davis said, recalling victories over Florida State and Virginia Tech. “I think our kids deserve every opportunity to be called national champions.”
A few factors voters will consider: Florida State’s 30-7 victory over Florida in the final regular-season game and, of course, Miami’s 27-24 win over the Seminoles back in October. Miami’s one loss this season came at the hands of Washington, a team that was then-No. 15 in the nation but finished the season ranked fourth.
They’ll also look at Miami’s winning streak, an offense that averaged 42 points a game and a defense that made big plays when it had to all season — including tonight.
Miami Dominates Game of Rivals
The Gators were admittedly riled at all the praise being heaped upon Miami and at being perceived as a mere obstacle in Miami’s road to a split national championship. Tempers flared on the teams’ first day in New Orleans last week, when approximately 40 players shoved and taunted each other on Bourbon Street.
No players were suspended or charged in the confrontation, but the scuffle only further fueled this bitter rivalry.
Florida struck first when quarterback Rex Grossman connected with tight end Kirk Wells on a 23-yard passing play. But the Gators then struggled as Grossman forced his passes. The redshirt freshman on a single series threw three straight incomplete passes, all of which were nearly intercepted by the Hurricanes.
Miami struggled early but dominated this game later by effectively mixing up its offense, which was ranked fifth in the nation and had 454 total yards tonight. By alternating between a pounding running game and productive passing attack, the Hurricanes kept Florida’s defense off balance. Clinton Portis ran for 97 of Miami’s 184 rushing yards while Santana Moss caught 6 passes for 89 yards to lead Miami.
Florida Surrenders Lead for Good
The Hurricanes scored on three straight possessions in the first half, including a touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter to take the lead for the first time. That 66-yard, 10-play scoring drive was capped with a pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey, putting Miami ahead 10-7.
Miami kicker Todd Sievers also hit a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter after missing a 47-yarder on Miami’s opening drive. He later added two 29-yard field goals.
The Gators, helped by a 41-yard run by Earnest Graham and a 15-yard passing play to Reche Caldwell, threatened to push ahead on its final drive of the first half. But Grossman’s pass to Taylor Jacobs in the end zone with 13 seconds left was picked off by Leonard Myers.
Florida began the second half fired up and on target, scoring a sack, a pick and a touchdown on a brilliant run.
Defensive end Alex Brown sacked Dorsey for an 8-yard loss on Miami’s opening drive in the second half. Two plays later, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff picked off Dorsey’s pass, setting up Graham’s 36-yard rushing touchdown.
The score put the Gators ahead 17-13, their first lead since the first quarter and their last of the game.
Davenport’s Scores Seal Win
Miami scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to tighten its grip on the game. D.J. Johnson’s 19-yard touchdown reception concluded an 80-yard Miami drive for the team’s first score that quarter.
Davenport and Sievers then did the rest.
Dorsey’s floating, 2-yard touchdown pass to the corner of the end zone went through the hands of defender Marcus Oquendo-Johnson and into the arms of Davenport, giving Miami a 10-point lead, 27-17.
The fullback’s 3-yard run with four minutes and 21 seconds left in the fourth gave Miami its largest lead of the night. Sievers made the extra point to put Miami ahead for good 37-20.
Florida kicker Jeff Chandler added 6 points for the Gators, making 51- and 26-yard field goals.
Florida Intercepted Three Times
As brilliant as Miami was later in the game, Grossman struggled. The quarterback went 18-for-41 with 2 interceptions and threw for 252 yards. Florida coach Steve Spurrier replaced Grossman with senior Jesse Palmer, the player with whom he shared playing time in the regular season, in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
But Palmer, too, was stung by the solid Miami defense when Dan Morgan, the defensive player of the year, intercepted him for Miami’s third pickoff of the night.
As expected, Miami’s special teams were outstanding. The Hurricanes piled up 148 return yards, while Florida mustered just 9.
Florida and Miami have played each other 49 times before. Miami ties the series at 25 games apiece in a renewed rivalry that has seen 19 games decided by a touchdown or less.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.