McGahee gives No. 1 Miami another big game

Saturday, November 23, 2002

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- Ken Dorsey has missed open receivers, Andre Johnson has dropped perfectly thrown balls, and Kellen Winslow Jr. has sometimes gotten lost in the mix.

That talented trio gives No. 1 Miami plenty of scoring threats, but none has been as dependable or consistent as Willis McGahee.

The sophomore running back has been the Hurricanes' Mr. Reliable.

"Willis has really set himself apart," coach Larry Coker said Friday. "He's playing outstanding football."

McGahee tied a school record with his eighth 100-yard game in Miami's 28-21 win over No. 17 Pittsburgh on Thursday and had more than 165 all-purpose yards for the eighth time in nine games this season.

He ran 19 times for 159 yards and scored two touchdowns -- both impressive runs by the 6-foot-1, 220-pound back. He ran 10 times for 125 yards in the first half and accounted for all but 13 of the team's total yards.

"He kind of kept us in it in the first half," Coker said. "He was the only real playmaker we had."

He's been Miami's biggest playmaker all season. McGahee has been the primary catalyst for a team that habitually starts slow, fails to put opponents away, seems to play better when cornered and tends to get up only for big games.

"He gives us so much consistency," Dorsey said. "He has the opportunity to make the big play on top of that, and that's a huge advantage."

Miami trailed Pitt 14-7 in the second quarter and could have been behind even more if not for a punt return that Sean Taylor took 78 yards off a reverse for a touchdown. The Canes had four punts, an interception and a missed field goal.

Then McGahee took over.

He started left, turned upfield, broke through two tacklers and outran several defenders for a 69-yard score that tied the game just before halftime.

His second run was even more impressive. On first-and-goal at the 7, McGahee took a handoff right, beat a defender to the outside and then leaped over cornerback Shawntae Spencer from about the 4-yard line. He landed in the end zone for his 19th rushing touchdown of the season.

McGahee broke the school record for rushing touchdowns, Edgerrin James' 17 in 1998. He also tied the school's single-season record of eight 100-yard rushing games held by Ottis Anderson (1978) and Clinton Portis (2001).

"I have confidence in my O-line," McGahee said. "When they get the job done, I get the job done. If they don't operate, I don't operate. They were good. I was getting 3 or 4 yards a shot before breaking the big one."

McGahee has had many big ones this season.

He ran for 204 yards at Florida in September, had 221 total yards against Boston College and has had at least 170 total yards in each of the last five games -- against Florida State, West Virginia, Rutgers, Tennessee and Pitt.

He did much of it with a sore shoulder and a sprained toe.

Still, his teammates and coaches say Dorsey should win the Heisman Trophy over McGahee. Both have emerged as possible finalists for the award that will be presented Dec. 14.

Many give Dorsey credit for the game-winning drive against the Seminoles last month, but it was McGahee he took a screen pass and turned it into a 68-yard gain that set up the final touchdown. Not bad for a player who sat out the 2000 season, missed part of last year with a knee injury, then returned only to be switched to fullback for the Rose Bowl.

He might still be at the position if not for tailback Frank Gore's season-ending knee injury in the spring. Even so, McGahee probably would be the team's most dependable and consistent blocker. After all, he is Mr. Reliable.

"I just try not to be one of those people who let your teammates down," McGahee said.

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