Originally created 10/13/03

Underdog Hurricanes prove doubters wrong

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The Miami Hurricanes feel they're still the team to beat.

The second-ranked Hurricanes dominated Florida State on the road and in the rain Saturday, defeating their instate rival for the fourth straight year and winning their 38th consecutive regular-season game.

Underdogs? Maybe underrated.

"When we come together, there's nobody in the nation that can beat us - nobody," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "Always remember this: Miami Hurricanes always find a way to win. Don't disrespect us. Underdog? That's a kick in the mouth."

The Hurricanes (6-0) needed 28 points in the second half to beat Florida and a fourth-down pass to avoid an upset against West Virginia. Combined with losing running back Frank Gore for the season, many questioned whether Miami had a shot at playing in a third consecutive national championship game.

The oddsmakers agreed, making then-No. 5 Florida State a seven-point favorite. But Miami used five turnovers and a blocked kick to win 22-14 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score.

"We're the team to beat," running back Jarrett Payton said. "Until somebody knocks us off, that's how I feel."

The Hurricanes have won 40 of the last 41 games, losing only to Ohio State in double overtime in the Fiesta Bowl last January. Under third-year coach Larry Coker, they have beaten every Big East opponent and won at Penn State, at Florida, at Tennessee and now at Florida State twice.

Miami has won 18 straight on the road, 25 in a row at home and 26 consecutive conference games - making a strong case for being the best football program in the nation.

"If you really sit back and think about it, it's a phenomenal story," Coker said Sunday. "What we've been able to accomplish, I can't really explain it other than consistency.

"We've been able to win games we're supposed to win and we've been able to kick it up a notch and win games that maybe they're as good as we are or we're not supposed to win."

With the victory, Coker became college football's winningest coach after 31 games. His 30-1 record and .968 winning percentage is slightly better than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who went 29-1-1 (.952) in his first 31 games between 1973 and 1975.

"People in Oklahoma will hate me for that," said Coker, a former assistant at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. "It's a great honor. It's just fun to win, bottom line. There's nothing like winning. I don't want to downplay it at all, but as coaches you know how quickly football can be a humbling experience."

Coker might have gotten a small taste of that against West Virginia. Miami needed a 66-yard drive and a 23-yard field goal in the final two minutes to avoid a loss.

Feeling disrespected and unappreciated after beating the Mountaineers 22-20, the Hurricanes used it as motivation against the Seminoles.

Miami combined a suffocating defense, an opportunistic special teams and a strong effort from Payton in his first career start (97 yards on 26 carries) to jump to a 22-0 lead.

While all those factors played a role in the victory, it may have been a blow to the team's collective pride that inspired Miami most.

"It got a few noses flared," linebacker D.J. Williams said. "This is the first time this season we actually played like the Miami Hurricanes."

Said defensive end Baraka Atkins: "We flipped the switch."

And on Sunday, the Hurricanes were one of just five teams that remained unbeaten and just three from major conferences.

"I don't think we'd ever get bored or spoiled by winning, but sometimes you forget how difficult it is to win football games because your fans don't know that," Coker said. "They think you just show up and beat these people. It doesn't happen that way.

"We learned what we can do. I don't know if we even scratched the surface, but I think we got a glimpse of how dominant we can be."


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