Miami escapes upset again

Updated: October 3, 2003, 5:21 PM ET

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami needed four late touchdowns to beat Florida, several turnovers to put away East Carolina and a last-minute field goal to edge lowly West Virginia.

The second-ranked Hurricanes may have won 39 of their last 40 games, but they're not invincible.

They're vulnerable, especially without running back Frank Gore and a trip to No. 5 Florida State looming next Saturday.

"This team is a little bit of a mystery to me," coach Larry Coker said Friday, a day after Miami needed a 23-yard field goal with 11 seconds to play to beat the Mountaineers 22-20 at the Orange Bowl.

Few would disagree.

The Hurricanes have looked great at times, like when quarterback Brock Berlin rallied Miami from a 23-point deficit to beat the Gators 38-33 in early September. Or when Berlin engineered a 66-yard drive with two minutes to play Thursday night to set up the game-winning field goal against West Virginia.

Other times, Miami has looked ordinary.

Berlin has telegraphed passes, forced throws into coverage and had little success running an offense that ranked sixth, eighth and fifth nationally the last three seasons. The offensive struggles were masked in the first four games because of seven returns for touchdowns -- two punts, two interceptions, two fumbles and a kickoff.

They were obvious against the Mountaineers.

Berlin had two interceptions and could have had two more, the offensive line was pushed around, and the defense gave up as many big plays as it did the last two years combined.

"It's getting redundant," guard Vernon Carey said. "We've been doing the same thing every week. If we're going to beat Florida State, we've got to put some stuff together."

Making matters worse, the Hurricanes (5-0, 2-0 Big East) learned Friday that Gore would miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"When you lose a prime player like Frank Gore, without question, it affects your team," Coker said. "But other players have to pick up the slack. ... We just have to move forward."

Jarrett Payton ran 21 times for 69 yards and caught 10 passes for 71 yards against West Virginia, but the son of NFL Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton also fumbled with 3:32 to play. He turned the ball over near midfield, setting up Quincy Wilson's 33-yard touchdown reception that put the Mountaineers ahead 20-19 with two minutes to play.

Payton has fumbled several times in his five-year career, many in key situations, and Coker said he probably will move receiver Jason Geathers back to tailback to help replace Gore, who ran 89 times for 468 yards and became the first player in school history to run for 100 yards in each of the first three games of a season.

Geathers played tailback last season after Gore had reconstructive surgery on his right knee.

"We have to be able to run the football," Coker said. "We don't want to be a team that's just a throwfest. We have to be able to do some of both. Will the identity change? Maybe it will slant one way more than another if we're not able to run the ball as effectively as we would like to."

Miami has played its best with Berlin working from the shotgun, where he is able to read and react quicker to defensive alignments.

He was in it for the final drive Thursday.

With the Hurricanes facing a fourth-and-13 on their own 25, Berlin lofted a pass down the middle to tight end Kellen Winslow, who made a leaping catch for an 18-yard gain.

Berlin completed the next three passes to move Miami into field goal range. Then a pass interference call against West Virginia's Brian King turned the game-winner into a chip shot for freshman Jon Peattie, who finished with a school-record five field goals.

"If you would have asked, 'What's it going to take to beat West Virginia?' Jon Peattie having a good night is one thing that probably wouldn't have come up in the scenario," Coker said.

But the Hurricanes could say the same thing about Florida and East Carolina. Few expected Miami would need such a rally to beat the Gators, and few expected the 'Canes would have led East Carolina 17-3 in the fourth quarter before an onslaught of turnovers made the game a blowout.

And now, with Miami's problems, even Coker doesn't know what to expect when the Hurricanes travel to Tallahassee.

"I don't know what it's going to take to win that game," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index