Originally created 09/08/02

'Canes win big against Gators



GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Best in the state. Best in the country. Best in The Swamp.

Top-ranked Miami could pick any title it wanted Saturday after Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee and a cast of dozens led the Hurricanes to a 41-16 rout of No. 6 Florida.

A great opportunity for new Florida coach Ron Zook to prove he can coach in the big time turned into a showcase for Dorsey, and a couple of Hurricanes trying to replace key players from last year's national championship team.

McGahee, a sophomore tailback who replaced Clinton Portis, rushed for 204 yards against the overmatched Gators (1-1).

Safety Maurice Sikes, replacing big-play defensive back Ed Reed, had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a 97-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. That gave Miami a 34-16 lead and sealed the victory to extend the nation's longest Division I-A winning streak to 24 games.

It was the first regular-season meeting between these once-bitter Florida rivals since 1987, and the Gators looked like they might want to wait another 15 years to face a team like this again.

The defeat was Florida's worst at home since 1979, a 40-0 loss to Alabama. The 41 points were the most the Gators have given up at home since 1970 (a 63-14 loss to Auburn). That came a full two decades before Steve Spurrier took over the program and took it to greatness.

But not even Spurrier could have saved the Gators this time. They were too overmatched.

Trailing 27-16, Rex Grossman started the Gators on a 92-yard march deep into Miami territory. But Sikes stepped in front of Florida receiver Carlos Perez to make the interception and end the drive. The touchdown sucked all the life out of The Swamp, a venue that used to help make the Gators nearly invincible. Lately, though, it seems like just another stadium.

Florida lost for the second time in its last three games at home, dating to its 34-32 loss to Tennessee last December. In that game, it was Travis Stephens running all over the Gators, gaining 226 yards. This time, it was McGahee, a sophomore who worked his way up the depth chart and now finds himself in the spotlight.

McGahee and Miami pushed the Gators around all night, and were it not for three interceptions by Dorsey - including one returned for a touchdown by Bam Hardmon to pull Florida within 27-16 - the score could have been even worse.

But for every mistake Dorsey and the Hurricanes made, they came back with an even bigger play to make up for it.

Dorsey threw for four touchdowns, including two to running back Jason Geathers, and despite his up-and-down effort, the senior quarterback didn't appear to lose ground to Grossman in the early race for the Heisman Trophy.

Under heavy pressure all night, Grossman went 19-for-45 for 191 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked just once, on a play that merely added insult to injury.

Trailing 41-16, Grossman went down and Miami's Vince Wilfork celebrated with a big Gator Chomp. Wilfork drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, but it barely mattered. Most of the record crowd of 85,777 was gone by then.

Grossman had a chance to give the Gators momentum in the second quarter, but after a blocked punt gave Florida the ball on the Miami 9, the Gators got called for delay of game. Three plays later, they settled for a field goal and a 10-6 lead.

The Hurricanes answered immediately with a touchdown. A few minutes after that, they showed the difference between champions and pretenders by forcing Florida to botch a punt deep in its own territory and getting a touchdown out of it for a 20-10 lead.

The victory should keep Miami in the top spot in the next Associated Press poll. The Hurricanes can claim the state championship on Oct. 12, when they play Florida State.

Zook, meanwhile, must concentrate on keeping his team together after such a humbling loss. After a get-well game next week against Ohio, the Gators travel to Tennessee on Sept. 21 for a key Southeastern Conference game against the Vols.