Coker: UM has plenty to play for

The Hurricanes' coach tries to take his first loss


Miami's Lance Leggett runs past North Carolina's Jacoby Watkins for a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday. Miami eventually lost the game, 31-28.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 1:15 a.m.
CORAL GABLES - Optimism comes easily to Larry Coker, considering his teams rarely lose.
Miami's stunning 31-28 loss at North Carolina on Saturday essentially knocked the Hurricanes out of the national championship picture, ended a 10-game winning streak and was only the fourth loss in Coker's 45 games since taking over as head coach.
No matter how he tried Sunday, Coker couldn't mask some disappointment. Still, he insisted the Hurricanes - who are in a three-way tie atop the Atlantic Coast Conference and play host to Clemson on Saturday - have plenty of goals worth pursuing.
''We've certainly got a lot to play for,'' Coker said. ''It's more about us than it is a national title. It's more about us even than Clemson. We've got to get our ship righted, our ducks in a row, all the cliches you can say. It's more about us than anybody else.''
And although North Carolina deserves plenty of credit for not being intimidated by big, bad Miami - which entered the game ranked No. 4, but dropped to 11th in Sunday's AP Top 25 poll - the Hurricanes (6-1) lost the game because its defense has become, well, offensive.
North Carolina entered Saturday's game with the nation's second-worst defense, but the Tar Heels made Miami's defense look second-rate. Miami yielded 545 yards and 30 first downs, plus couldn't stop North Carolina's 65-yard march that set up Connor Barth's gamewinning 42-yard field goal as time expired.
Everything the Tar Heels tried against Miami's defense worked. North Carolina ran for 279 yards and passed for 266 more against a defensive unit that, three games ago, was ranked among the nation's best.
Not anymore.
''We weren't able to take away one side of their offense,'' Coker said. ''They could run the ball and pass the ball.''
Brock Berlin and the offense bailed Miami's suddenly-sievelike defense out against Louisville and North Carolina State, games where the Hurricanes allowed 507 and 440 yards, respectively. But against North Carolina, 338 passing yards from Berlin, 28 points and no turnovers by the offense still wasn't enough.
''I don't know what we're supposed to feel right now,'' safety Brandon Meriweather said after Saturday's game. ''I'm not used to losing.''
If there is some consolation right now for the Hurricanes, it's this: Win out, and they'll be back in a Bowl Championship Series game for the fifth straight year, this time as ACC champions.
Five teams are separated by a half-game in the ACC race, with Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech all sharing first place with 3-1 league marks. Miami is at Virginia on Nov. 13, and ends the regular season at home against the Hokies Dec. 4.
''We're a resilient bunch, we're a tough bunch, we know there's a lot of season left and we've got some tough football games left,'' Coker said. ''That's a little bit of the beauty of college football. We do have some more opportunities.''
NOTES: Coker said he'd meet with assistant coaches and determine whether to begin using some players who had been slated for redshirt seasons. Miami's running game is struggling with the loss of offensive linemen Eric Winston and Tyler McMeans, and there's several holes on the defensive side. ''I don't really want to do that now, but obviously, it's something we may have to,'' Coker said. ... The loss was only Miami's eighth in 111 games against unranked opponents since 1990.

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