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Hurricanes Ready For Pittsburgh

Hurricanes Ready For Pittsburgh

By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer

MIAMI (AP)- Miami safety Al Blades raised his right hand about chesthighand stared at his fingers.

“We don’t have a ring on our finger, so it’s not done yet,” Bladessaid.”We can’t let up now. We came into this season with goals, and it’s not overuntil we accomplish them.”

The No. 2 Hurricanes (7-1, 4-0 Big East) need to win their final threegamesto secure their first conference championship since 1996 and firstundefeatedBig East season since 1994. They still could claim the league title with aloss, but it would eliminate them from the national championship picture.

The three-game stretch that will decide Miami’s postseason fate beginsSaturday against Pittsburgh (5-3, 2-2), which has lost two in a row andthreeof its past four but has a solid defense and big-play potential on offense.

“This game is as big as Florida State and Virginia Tech,” offensivetackleJoaquin Gonzalez said.

The Hurricanes are third in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, alittlemore than three-tenths of a point behind the Seminoles. The top two teamswillplay in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

Miami beat FSU 27-24 last month and figures to move ahead of theSeminoles -who play Wake Forest (1-7) – in the BCS with a victory against Pittsburgh.

But to stay ahead of Florida State, the Hurricanes might need to beatthePanthers, Syracuse and Boston College by wide margins. Miami needs to makeupground in the eight BCS computer polls, seven of which factor in margin ofvictory.

“It used to be there was a time when only the bookies were concernedwithhow many (points) people won the games by,” Miami coach Butch Davis said.”Obviously now, that’s become a factor.”

Averaging 44.5 points. the Hurricanes are second in the nation inscoringoffense. But they could have a tough time pulling away from the Panthers,wholead the Big East in scoring defense at 18.4 points a game and are 29th inthenation in total defense.

“The best thing we have here is our effort, not necessarily our talentoranything special about our program,” said Panthers coach Walt Harris, whoseteam is one win away from its first winning season since 1991. “But youcan’tjust play with effort.”

Pittsburgh lost to Syracuse in two overtimes and fell to Virginia TechandNorth Carolina by three points.

“Probably the biggest improvement that we see with this Pittsburgh teamisthe defense,” Davis said. “They are very, very rugged. They remind us of thePittsburgh teams in the early and middle ’80s. They are big, physical, toughkids who begrudgingly give up yards in the running game. They make it verydifficult.”

Both teams have efficient quarterbacks and one of the best receivingtandemsin the country.

Pittsburgh’s John Turman and Miami’s Ken Dorsey both are in the top 10inthe nation in passing efficiency.

Turman’s favorite target, Antonio Bryant, leads the nation in receivingyards per game (149), and teammate Latef Grim averages 58 yards. Miami’s duoofSantana Moss and Reggie Wayne aren’t far behind, averaging 70 and 68 yards.

Bryant, a sophomore from Miami, has 25 catches for 561 yards and sixtouchdowns in the last three games. Moss has been equally productive,scoringthree touchdowns receiving, two on punt returns and one rushing in the lastthree games.

“All of those guys have lit up secondaries this year,” Miami defensivetackle Matt Walters said.