Saturday, October 05, 2002

No. 1 Miami running over opponents

AP Sports Writer

        MIAMI — Miami center Brett Romberg will sometimes walk off the field, grab a headset and ask for more running plays. To his coaches, it must seem like an unnecessary request.

        The top-ranked Hurricanes (4-0) are on pace to break nearly every rushing record this season. The most telling one, yards per carry, might be shattered. Connecticut (2-3) will try to slow down Miami on Saturday night — something no team has done this season.

        Especially not on the ground.

        “As an offensive lineman, you definitely want to run the ball,” Romberg said. “We take it personally.”

        The Hurricanes, who have the nation's longest winning streak at 26 games, have run 147 times for 912 yards in four games — an average of 6.2 yards a carry and 228 yards a game. They are 14th in the nation in rushing.

        “When you can't stop something, that's when you get frustrated,” running back Jarrett Payton said. “And a lot of people are going to be frustrated when they play us.”

        Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski says teams are playing a lot of zone defenses, dropping six or seven players into coverage and trying to make Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow Jr., and the Miami passing game dink and dump their way down field.

        On paper, it might look like the smart thing to do. But on the field, Willis McGahee has made it look silly.

        The sophomore tailback has run 68 times for 533 yards, averaging 7.8 yards a carry and scoring seven touchdowns. McGahee has three straight 100-yard games, including 204 against Florida, 134 against Temple and 135 against Boston College.

        UConn, a 44-point underdog playing its first season in Division I-A, is allowing nearly 150 yards a game on the ground.

        “If you try to do too much, you make more mistakes,” UConn linebacker Maurice Lloyd said. “No one can go out and try to play with an 'S' on their chest. We've got to swarm to the ball and play fundamental.”

        Even that might not be enough.

        Huskies coach Randy Edsall watched Miami pound Nebraska 37-14 in the Rose Bowl to win a fifth national title. Three months later, the Hurricanes sent 11 players to the NFL — including five first-rounders, three offensive lineman and the entire starting backfield.

        Edsall hasn't seen a drop-off.

        “I think they're better than what they were a year ago,” Edsall said. “I know that's saying a lot. They're faster. A lot of positions they're a year older. And with them winning the national championship, it instilled a lot more confidence in themselves and their ability to do things as a team.”

        The last team to hold Miami under 100 yards rushing was West Virginia in 2000. But even then, the Hurricanes threw for nearly 300 yards and won 47-10.

        “It's kind of pick your poison,” Chudzinski said. “You either want teams to try to run or pass. I'm not worried about what people want to do. We try to be balanced so we can do either one.”

        The Hurricanes have run 54 percent of the time. Part of that has to do with getting big leads, then running down the clock. But it has more to do with what works best — and this season, that has been the ground game.

        “The running game sets up everything we do,” running backs coach Don Soldinger said. “If you're in a fight, you certainly don't want someone hitting you in the mug with a fist. That's what running the football is like.

        “If you're consistent in the running game, it's going to be a long day for the defense.”


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