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October 2, 2012

Big plays both ways

When the Miami Hurricanes won four national titles in a nine-year span (1983, 1987, 1989 and 1991), they did it flamboyantly and, most importantly, explosively. The Hurricanes added a fifth national title in 2001 for an incredible five in 19 seasons.

On offense, they had the quarterbacks and the skill position players to quick-strike opponents into submission. Jim Kelly, Craig Erickson, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Gino Toretta and Ken Dorsey threw to wideouts Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Michael Irvin, Bennie Blades and Randal Hill, among others.

And the rest is Miami Hurricanes history.

The 2012 Hurricanes under second-year head coach Al Golden - 4-1 after back-to-back one-score victories over ACC foes Georgia Tech and N.C. State - are explosive as well.

They're just as likely, however, to get blown up themselves.

Through five games, the Hurricanes have had (by unofficial count) 19 running plays of 10 yards or more and a noteworthy 22 passes of 20 yards or more, including 12 receptions of 35 yards and beyond.

The running back tandem of senior Mike James (278 yards) and freshman Duke Johnson (359 yards) have combined for eight rushing touchdowns. Give them the slightest crack and they'll burst through the hole for double-digit yardage.

The Hurricanes have multiple weapons in the passing game, starting with quarterback Stephen Morris, who threw for an ACC-record 566 yards in Miami's 44-37 victory over N.C. State Saturday.

Morris' two main targets are wide receivers Phillip Dorsett (28 catches, 464 yards, 3 TDs) and Rashawn Scott (17 catches, 326 yards, 2 TDs). Together, they are averaging 17.5 yards per reception. With Davon Johnson, Allen Hurns and tight end Clive Walford mixed in, the Hurricanes have hit opponents with a sledgehammer in the passing game.

Dorsett had receptions of 23, 36, 40 and 65 yards in the 42-36 overtime victory at Georgia Tech. The following week, he had grabs of 24, 40, 46 and 62 yards against the Wolfpack.

Scott had a 25-yarder in a one-sided loss to Kansas State, a 22-yarder versus Bethune-Cookman, a 25-yarder against Georgia Tech, and 52- and 76-yarders versus N.C. State.

But as quickly as Miami can strike offensively, they're just as vulnerable defensively. The Hurricanes are 114th in total defense (494.6 ypg.), 112th in rushing defense (225.6 ypg.), 100th in pass efficiency defense, and 91st in passing defense (269.0 ypg.).

Miami has allowed a startling 31 running plays of 10 yards or more and 20 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Bethune-Cookman had nine of those 31 rushes of 10 yards or more while Kansas State had 14 of the 51 explosives allowed. Miami has allowed 10 more explosives (51) than they've had offensively (41).

Like many quick-strike teams, the Hurricanes are nearly as likely to turn it over as they are to force a turnover. To the defense's credit - despite the 51 explosive plays allowed - the unit has created 12 turnovers (seven fumbles recovered, five interceptions). But the Hurricanes have turned it over nine times (5 fumbles lost, 4 interceptions).

While this Saturday's opponent - Notre Dame - doesn't possess nearly the offensive explosiveness that Miami has displayed, the Irish protect the football well while the defense has forced 13 turnovers, which is more than all but four FBS teams. Notre Dame has turned the football over five less times than Miami (one fumble lost, three interceptions) in one less game.

When No. 9/10 Notre Dame takes on Miami in Chicago's Soldier Field, the outcome likely will be determined by explosive plays and each team's ability to protect the football.

Bombs away.


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