Miami leaves no doubt who's best

Originally Published: October 11, 2003
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The joy in the cramped visiting locker room Saturday afternoon was palpable. Not because No. 2 Miami beat No. 5 Florida State, 22-14. Let's face it, after four in a row, the Hurricanes are used to beating the Seminoles. But Miami is not used to winning after being doubted. The players loved the feeling.

"Don't doubt the University of Miami," junior defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a future first-round draft choice, said. "Everybody has their ups and downs. Don't never put doubt in our heads."

"All the doubts were in the media," senior linebacker D.J. Williams, a future first-round draft choice, said. "They don't play the game. It's easier to say that if you're not doing it."

Sean Taylor
AP PhotoSean Taylor had 10 INTs in 2003.
"When there's doubt," junior free safety Sean Taylor, a future first-round draft choice, said, "it makes the win just that much sweeter."

There's a theme here, and it's not that it's foolish to doubt a team with three future first-round draft choices on its defense. Miami came by the doubts naturally after mailing in their performances against Florida and West Virginia. In both games, the Hurricanes rallied late in the fourth quarter to eke out a victory.

According to Taylor, those days are over.

"You won't see another close game," Taylor said. "We're getting in the mood. We're going to dominate."

Early in the first quarter, well after the first puddle formed near midfield, it became apparent that the only team good enough to beat Miami among its first six opponents is Miami, which nearly happened twice.

"We played down to other teams' level," Williams said. "It's college football. Some teams are harder to get up for than others."

Against the archrival Seminoles, the Hurricanes used the same game plan that Ohio State used to beat Miami last January. If the offense makes a play, that's gravy. Defense and special teams are enough to win it all.

"We told the offense, 'Let us handle it," Taylor said. "Y'all play your game. We'll handle it. We could have won 3-0 today."

The only guy playing better center field than Taylor is Johnny Damon, and he's damaged goods. Taylor got his fifth and sixth interceptions of the season in the second quarter. He returned the second one 50 yards, his second such score of the season, to give Miami a 19-0 halftime lead.

The play captured the futility of Florida State in general and junior quarterback Chris Rix in particular.

He is a Southern California native and came to Tallahassee without much experience throwing a wet ball. Rix had one of his worst games last season in a downpour at Louisville, where the Seminoles lost in overtime. On Saturday, Rix fumbled two snaps and fell on them. He fumbled two other times, both of which Miami recovered. Once again, Rix, like Ilsa in "Casablanca," didn't show up in the rain.

"I don't know if he'll ever be able to adjust to the rain," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said after the game.

Rix did make a couple of good throws downfield. From his own end zone, he got the Seminoles out of one jam by completing a 48-yard pass down the right sideline to Craphonso Thorpe. In the third quarter, he dropped a pass right over the shoulder of Dominic Robinson at the Miami 5-yard-line. Unfortunately, Robinson dropped it, too.

More often, Rix's deep passes wobbled and fell short of their target. With 3:11 Taylor camped under one, gathered it in, and weaved down the left side of the field for a touchdown. The biggest crowd in the history of Doak Campbell Stadium had grown so quiet you could hear a team drop -- in the polls.

"I knew we had him on the play he shoved me," said Wilfork. Given that Rix gives up 129 pounds to the 6-2, 346 Wilfork, Rix might plead temporary insanity. "It was some time in the second quarter. He completed the pass for a first down. As soon as he did that, I knew I completed my mission to get him frustrated. I knew he would have a long day."

Early in the fourth quarter, Rix scrambled for 19 yards to the Miami 40, got up and fired a roundhouse right through the air, almost hitting Wilfork again. That drive lasted 18 plays, went 79 yards, and died a painful death on the Miami 4-yard-line. On the Seminoles' final drive, Rix threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chris Davis after the clock read 0:00. He finished 20-of-42 for 235 yards and two touchdowns.

"We thought we could take advantage of their depleted secondary," Rix said, referring to strong safety Mo Sikes, who missed the game because of a sprained knee. "We thought we could beat them with the run but they made adjustments after the success we had last year."

A year ago, Florida State tailback Greg Jones rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown against Miami. On Saturday, Jones carried it 13 times and gained 15 yards. Even Sikes had something to say in the locker room after the game, sort of.

"Do you want me to say what I'd like to say," Sikes asked, "or what I'm supposed to say?"

Woolfork had no such hesitation.

"This is the old Miami, the old Miami right here," he said on the field after the game. About an hour later, after he had showered and the locker room had just about emptied, Wilfork leaned back on the stool in his locker and thought about his career against his team's biggest archrival.

"I haven't lost to Florida State yet," Wilfork said. "When I leave the University of Miami, that's bragging rights for me. Wherever I go, I hope I have a Florida State Seminole as a teammate so that I can talk junk. They can never say anything to me my whole career."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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