Miami 26, Tennessee 3
Angry, disrespected and admittedly even a tad embarrassed, Miami reaffirmed its position as college football's top team with a 26-3 dismantling of Tennessee today.
Punished in the Associated Press poll and the Bowl Championship Series rankings for giving only a quarter's worth of their best effort in a 25-point win over Rutgers last week, the Hurricanes (9-0) answered their critics by demonstrating that, when challenged, they still have few peers.
So thoroughly dominant was Miami in the first 30 minutes that thousands in the crowd of 107,745 -- the fifth-largest in Neyland Stadium history -- called it a day at halftime with the Volunteers (5-4) trailing 19-3. The Hurricanes scored on their first five possessions, never punted and administered such a physical beating that four Volunteers, including quarterback Casey Clausen, were knocked out of the game because of injuries.
"We wanted to come out and make a statement," said sophomore running back Willis McGahee, who shredded the fifth-ranked Tennessee defense with 30 carries for 154 yards. "People looked at last week like we didn't even win the game. We had an attitude in practice all week, and we brought that with us to the field."
At least for a half. The Hurricanes went on cruise control offensively in the second half after rolling up 285 yards before intermission. That should not adversely affect anyone's opinion of them this week, especially not with Oklahoma losing at Texas A&M and Ohio State escaping at Purdue. Miami, which has won 31 consecutive games, likely will regain its familiar No. 1 ranking in the writers' poll, where it is reigned every week except this one since October 2001.
More importantly, it likely will be No. 1 in the BCS rankings when they are released Monday. Third this week, Miami certainly will bypass the top-ranked Sooners and probably even the Buckeyes, whom they trailed by a slight margin last week.
"We don't care about all of that BCS stuff," said tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who caught five passes for 67 yards and a second-half touchdown. "All we care about is repeating as national champion. Everything will work out."
Conventional wisdom leading up to today's game had given Tennessee -- more than a touchdown underdog -- a chance at an upset given their penchant for running the ball and Miami's previous difficulties stopping the rush. West Virginia accumulated 363 yards on the ground against the Hurricanes and Florida State totaled 296.
That theory received a boost on the game's second play, when Tennessee's Cedric Houston broke loose for 74 yards before Kelly Jennings ran him down at the Miami 4. However, the Volunteers were stuffed on a first-down run and two incompletions by Clausen forced a 21-yard field goal by Alex Walls.
"After you get a big play like that against a team that good, you've got to be able to get a touchdown out of it," Tennessee offensive tackle Will Ofenheusle said. "After that, it seemed like it was all downhill."
Jason Geathers set up the Hurricanes at the Tennessee 45 with a 52-yard kickoff return, and the Hurricanes pulled even nine plays later on the first of Todd Sievers's four field goals, from 37 yards. The key play was a 27-yard completion from quarterback Ken Dorsey to Andre Johnson on third-and-10 from the Tennessee 33.
"Andre made a great catch on an important play early in the game," said Dorsey, who did not hurt his Heisman Trophy hopes with an 18-for-35, 245-yard performance. "I put the ball behind him -- I wasn't comfortable throwing it for the whole first quarter -- but he made an athletic play."
Defensively, the Hurricanes faced 27 snaps from the Vols the remainder of the half; only four went for more than eight yards.
"This was our best game of the year, by far," Miami Coach Larry Coker said.