Hurricanes to host Panthers

Nov. 21, 2002 at 3:33 PM
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MIAMI, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Top-ranked Miami, looking vulnerable in recent outings, Thursday night tries to extend its winning streak to 32 games when it hosts Pittsburgh in a Big East showdown.

The Hurricanes have been idle since a convincing 26-3 win over Tennessee on Nov. 9. Coach Larry Coker called it the best effort of the season by his Hurricanes, who had been sluggish the previous week against Rutgers and barely escaped with a one-point win over Florida State in October.

Several Miami players complained openly about their complacency in the weeks leading up to the Tennessee contest, but they appear to have regained their focus and will need it against Pitt, which has won seven of its last eight games.

The game has added significance in the wake of the stunning 21-18 upset of No. 12 Virginia Tech Wednesday night by West Virginia.

The Panthers (8-2, 5-0) must find a way to contain tailback Willis McGahee, who ran for 154 yards and a touchdown against the Volunteers, and has seven 100-yard rushing games this season.

Miami (9-0, 4-0) has won all 21 of its games under Coker, and owns the longest home winning streak in the nation at 20 games.

The Hurricanes also have won 21 straight Big East games.

Miami moved ahead of Ohio State and into first in the most recent Bowl Championship Series standings. It likely will play for the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl if this wins its elast three games. Miami visits Syracuse on Nov. 30 and hosts Virginia Tech on Dec. 7.

A Pittsburgh victory will throw the BCS selection process into chaos. The Panthers would then be in position to claim the automatic BCS berth as Big East champion, leaving Miami to compete for an at-large berth.

Miami's secondary will be challenged by the passing tandem of Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald, who hooked up for three scores in an upset of Virginia Tech earlier this month.

Fitzgerald, a freshman, has eight scoring receptions.

Senior linebacker Gerald Hayes has three straight 100-tackle seasons for Pitt, and likely will be busy Thursday chasing down the likes of McGahee and quarterback Ken Dorsey.

Dorsey, who has 21 touchdown passes this season, is 35-1 as a starter, including an 11-1 mark against ranked opponents.

Miami has won the last four meetings against Pittsburgh by a combined score of 149-41. The Hurricanes also have won 12 of the last 13, and lead the series, 19-9-1.

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