Sunday, October 21, 2007

Canes Beat the Noles in a Sloppy Classic

Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy races 27 yards for a touchdown after recovering a Xavier Lee fumble. Canes backup tight end Dedrick Epps celebrates his game winning touchdown catch from Kirby Freeman

It may not be the most historic or longest running rivalry in college football. But whenever the University of Miami and Florida State meet on the football field, chances are you'll see a thrilling finish. Forget about the records or where the teams are ranked. (unranked in this case) I dare anyone to find a rivalry that has more close and dramatic finishes than this one. If you have a heart condition and are a fan of either of these schools, this rivalry can be hazardous to your health.

Trailing 29-24 to start the fourth quarter, the Canes were down to their backup quarterback Kirby Freeman, who had completed more passes to the Noles than to his own teammates going into the final drive. With under 3 minutes to play and trailing 29-24, Freeman led the Canes to a game winning 83 yard drive that will down as one of the best in the history of the UM vs FSU rivalry. Just a couple of minutes earlier, Freeman appeared to be the goat, when he was stopped on 4th down and inches quarterback sneak inside the FSU one-yard-line. Never has a quarterback played so poorly, yet been so brilliant when the game was on the line.

How crazy was this game? Throw out all logic and expect the unexpected. Canes backup tight end Dedrick Epps had yet to catch a pass all season. But he would be on the receiving end of Freeman's game winning throw. FSU kicker Gary Cismesia made all five of his field goal attempts. FSU even got a defensive touchdown when linebacker Toddrick Verdell ran back a Kyle Wright interception 45 yards for a touchdown. Miami was able to score 37 points despite losing its starting quarterback Kyle Wright to a severe ankle injury and only four completions by Freeman. But three of Freeman's completions came on the final drive. Miami kicker Francesco Zampogna threw 26 yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal.

But let's be honest. Both of these teams are nowhere near the level they once were in their heyday. Gone are the days when the Canes and Noles were playing for national championships or a top ranking. We're now in an era where the University of South Florida is a better program. Both UM and FSU are unranked. The two teams combined for 9 turnovers and 15 penalties.

It was not a well played game. But you couldn't have asked for a more breathtaking and unlikely finish. Brent Musberger and Keith Jackson weren't broadcasting the game. In fact, ABC didn't even send it's B or C team to cover the game. They sent Terry Gannon and David Norrie--who are probably the network's D team. The only hype going into the contest was the lack of hype. But don't tell that to 82,000 who packed Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahssee or any those who watched it on TV. It was a sloppy classic.

Some observations:

*Miami defensive tackle Teraz McCray was the game's unsung hero. The senior from Pompano Beach Ely High was constantly in the FSU backfield, forcing fumbles and tipping passes. McCray forced FSU quarterback Xavier Lee to fumble that led to linebacker Colin McCarthy to score the game's final touchdown.

*Darnell Jenkins has become Miami's go-to receiver in clutch situations. Jenkins caught 4 passes for 106 yards. Although he didn't score, two of Jenkins catches set up Miami touchdowns, including the game winning pass from Freeman to Epps.

*Randy Shannon is the eighth Miami head coach to face Bobby Bowden's FSU teams. All eight of Miami's head coaches have beaten Bowden at least once.

*Bobby Bowden's record against the Canes drops to 13-20.

*Miami won the game despite FSU scoring first on a Gary Cismesia field goal. Why is this noteworthy? Going into the game, the team that had scored first had won 15 of the last 16 games in this rivlary. Well, make that 15 out of 17.

*Darren Daly replaced Francesco Zampogna as UM's starting place kicker. However, Zampogna came off the bench and threw a touchdown pass to tight end DajLeon Farr on a fake field goal.

*It's quite obvious Graig Cooper is Miami's best running back. Javarris James played better, but is still struggling to duplicate his freshman season. Cooper was used almost exclusively on Miami's game-winning final drive. Cooper needs to get the ball more.

*Sam Shields might be Miami's most talented receiver, yet didn't catch a pass. However, Dedrick Epps, who hadn't caught a pass all year, pulls in the game winner. Go figure.

*The Canes injury problems continue to mount. Miami's defensive line is getting thinner. The Canes played without three defensive tackles Antonio Dixon, Dwayne Hendricks and Josh Holmes. Defensive end Eric Moncur and left tackle Jason Fox also left the game with injuries. Quarterback Kyle Wright was knocked out of the game with a sprained ankle and Kirby Freeman took a vicious shot to the ribs after he was sandwiched between two FSU defenders on his game winning pass.

*Kudos to safety Randy Phillips who had two interceptions on tipped passes. Phillips had begun the year as a starting cornerback. But he lost his job after a terrible performance against Oklahoma. Phillips made the switch to safety and had the best game of his career.

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