By Tim Chapman Writer/Analyst


Florida Pass vs. Miami Pass Defense
Edge: Miami
The Florida Gators can throw the football. The Miami Hurricanes can defend the throw. So who wins among between the irresistible force and the immovable object? Well, let's take a step back and realize that Florida is not irresistible and Miami is not immovable. However, you gotta give the edge to the 'Canes here, gang.

Miami faced a potent passing attack last week in LA Tech and held them to just a 55 percent completion rate for a total of 185 yards, no TDs and two INTs (no sacks is a red-flag, though). That was against four- year veteran and Davey O'Brien candidate Luke McCown. This week, the secondary goes up against Ingle Martin and Chris Leak, who have yet to get significant snaps in a game of this heightened magnitude. The 'Canes have evident speed in the back-seven and fair pretty well against the pass.

Florida spread the ball around to eleven different receivers last week and will need to do much of the same against Miami. They can't expect to have one receiver get hot against their "fearsome foursome", so production must come from various outlets. I look for the Gators to incorporate some bunch routes to try and mix up the Hurricane secondary in man-coverage, and they'll have to occasionally sneak a guy deep along the sideline or underneath for honesty reasons. We should see the incorporation of TE Ben Troupe early. This is to help keep the LBs and safeties in the middle and away from the intermediate to deep outside levels. Martin and Leak will often have to look off to their third, fourth and even fifth options against this wily Hurricane defense, all with the hopes that the UF O-line can protect long enough. "Refrain from Pain"- that should be the Gators' motto. Gator backs better be ready to block, too, or it could be a long night for the aforementioned signal-callers.

Give the edge to Miami because they have been here before. It is in their house, and the lights, noise, and big game atmosphere (along with Miami's punishing defense) will take its toll on the young Florida QBs. If they were sacked twice against San Jose State, Gator fans might fret to think what the 'Canes will do to them.

Miami Pass vs. Florida Pass Defense
Slight Edge: Florida
Am I sold on Brock Berlin? In some ways yes, in other ways no. The Hurricane QB has the arm, and, along with it, a seemingly solid grasp on the offense. Still, he is inexperienced in the big game with this offensive unit. So far, he is hitting well on his passes (had a few dropped) as he throws a tight, crisp spiral, but has he been tested against a big-game defense? Not yet. "Big game defense? The Gators?" You betcha. This defense gave up only 185 yards to an offense similar to that which the Canes like to run. The pass defense proved to be constricting, allowing just 98 yards through the air and picking two passes off - both returned for touchdowns. They play with a five DB system under new coordinator Charlie Strong, and worked it to perfection last week. Now they put it to the test against a strong passing game.

Look for the Gators to put a LB and a SS on stellar TE Kellen Winslow, forcing Berlin to throw the ball more to the outside and deep. This will take away the TE dump-off underneath as well as keep a player to combat the hot routes. The Gators are quick, so wide receiver-screens may not work well. For Miami to succeed through the air, they will need to rely on some (RB) screens and underneath slips in vacant areas created by running off the corners and safeties, and by Winslow distracting many underneath defenders. This is where Miami's speed at receiver comes in handy. Guys like Roscoe Parrish and Devin Hester, great open-field runners, might even see more passes thrown there way underneath coverage, and Miami will rely on them to gain YAC their way downfield.

Bottom line: Berlin will struggle early against the schemes that Strong and the Gators present. A few early INTs can be expected until he calms himself and gets a good teaching at halftime as to how he can beat the Gator secondary.


Florida Run vs. Miami Run Defense
Slight Edge: Miami
Miami gave up five yards per carry last week, Florida rushed for 5 yards per carry. Will that number hold up? Well, more than you might think. Last year, the Gators ran for nearly 5 yards per carry against the Canes. Talent then was better for both teams' respective areas, so I expect to see much of the same production.

The Gators' main man is Ran Carthon. He is a powerful back who doesn't go down easily. His strong legs will be needed to contest the rugged front-seven (that's not to mention Miami's quick-hitting secondary) he will be going up against. One man is not going to handle the 'Canes, so depth and dispersion of efficiency is vital. Accordingly, DeShawn Wynn and Skyler Thornton will need to provide equivalent production from the tailback spot.

I think we will see a good first-half showing from these backs, but I like Miami to shut them down in the second half to force the Gators to the air. Miami's best asset against the run is their depth. It's gonna be hot and muggy in the Orange Bowl so the rotation of 8 potent D-linemen will be a big advantage. This fact - on top of the overall team defensive speed - urges me to give Miami the nod in this category.


Miami Run vs. Florida Run Defense
Edge: Miami
This will prove to be the game's deciding dimension. Frank Gore is a special player, and the country will see that in this game. Gore averaged 9.1 yards per carry as a 2001 freshman. The question with him, though, is can he take the beating of a 25+ carry game? His 21 carries against Louisiana Tech last weekend were the most in his career here at Miami, so he has never been completely tested. That defense was bunch of tree frogs compared to the nasty, larger reptilian defenders he's going at this week. Hopes are that his knee holds up.

The Gators play a 4-2-5 defense, so that means less meat along the front (defensive) line. You can expect the Gators to throw in a lineman or two in tight situations, but the majority of the time, they will have five (and even six) DBs in the lineup, sticking with only the four down-linemen. This is where the Miami O-line should cash in - Charlie Strong's defense gave up 164 yards per game last year and over 4 yards per carry. Sure, the talent is better now from Gainesville, but then again, the Gamecocks never really faced the stars the Hurricanes present. Though inexperienced, the Hurricane line is no less game-strengthened than the Florida defensive line, and therefore won't need to perform any miracles. Having Frank Gore running behind them, with Hill and Humphrey leading the way at fullback, the 'Canes edge ahead in this department.

I look for Gore to garner 30 carries, with most of them coming in the second half once Coker and Chudzinski realize Florida has their number in the pass game. Gore rushes for 130+ as he eats at the Florida defensive line and wears down the secondary.


Special Teams
Slight Edge: Miami
Florida has the better kicker, the punting is about even, but the blocking on special teams units tend to lean in favor of the boys from the south. So far in 2003, Miami has averaged 38.5 yards per punt return (including one for a TD) and 36.5 yards per KO return. That put them in fantastic field position, but this will be different. Knowing this, you can bet that the Gators will be kicking away from Rolle, Hester, and/or Parrish on punts and possibly squibbing their kickoffs or popping them into the hands of a fair-catching TE or FB. Some of the same might be seen from the Hurricanes in anticipating the Gator's returns, keeping away from Ratliff and Brown. The return games will pretty much be nullified, so why do I give the Canes the advantage? Simple- it's their house, they have the better athletes, and seem more likely to block a kick or come down and drill someone on coverage, causing a turnover. Advantage 'Canes, but special teams shouldn't make or break this game.


Final Thoughts
Miami versus Florida. The game itself rings due to this great football rivalry. Two storied football powers matching up in the Miami night-time atmosphere. What more could you want on a Saturday night (football related anyway - and don't say NCSU vs. OSU)?

The overall series is pretty tight, with Miami holding a slight edge at 26-25. However, in recent history, it's been one-sided. The Hurricanes have won the last four in a row against the Gators and nine of the last eleven. The last game they played at the Orange Bowl in 1987, the 'Canes won easily, 31-7.

In last year's tilt, the Gators fell flat on their faces at home. It wasn't even really a game - Florida took a figurative flop, losing 41-16 in a contest that was all Miami. Anytime the Gators came close, they failed, and ultimately squandered any hopes into the secure hands of Miami. I don't see that happening this year. I expect a much tighter game- through three quarters, anyway.

The game should be close going into half-time, with Miami clinging to a slim lead. The third quarter will see the 'Canes start to separate slowly, and, in the fourth quarter, Miami will ride on the back of its star back, Frank Gore and that strong offensive line (kudos, Art Kehoe).

Basically, it will be a case of ample balance on offense for Miami and not enough balance for Florida. The Gators will try some trickery early in the game (so watch for Leak/Martin to line up at wide-out and throw a WR pass or come around and throw a reverse pass). There is too much team speed on defense for Miami, and Florida will not be able to withstand it for four quarters. The Gators simply need a better run game and more experience at QB. This game should put some battle wounds square on the shoulders of Martin/Leak, which they will carry with them the rest of the season as signs of growth and strength. Not to worry Gainesville faithful- they will get better because of this very game.

Sorry Gator fans, but if you have a buddy at Miami or a buddy who loves Miami, you looks like you'll be buyin' drinks that night. 'Canes win in a good one.


Chappy's Predicition: Miami 34, Florida 21