No. 1 Miami 43, Pittsburgh 21

Friday, September 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Miami doesn't mind being No. 1 _ no, these Hurricanes like being on top, being the team everybody else wants to beat. It's an attitude reflected in the team motto: ready, set, dominate.

What they disliked was not being able to prove it.

When their Sept. 15 game against Washington was postponed by the terrorist attacks, it meant a 19-day layoff before Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh. For some teams, that would be a vacation; for one like Miami that thrives on playing and performing, it was an eternity.

``I wasn't really that excited that we would play well,'' coach Larry Coker said. ``I was asked if I honestly thought that, after a 19-day layoff, we would be the same team that beat Penn State and Rutgers. I wanted to say yes, and I think I said yes, but I had reservations.''

If he did, they didn't last long. The Hurricanes (3-0, 2-0 in Big East) had their usual big first quarter, racing to a 20-7 lead they eventually built to a 36-point edge before settling for a 43-21 victory over Pitt.

Pittsburgh (1-2, 0-1) welcomed back eight of its former stars, including Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett and Mike Ditka _ and All-American receiver Antonio Bryant, too, after he missed all but one play of the first two games with a sprained ankle.

But the big names didn't help and neither did Bryant, who was held to three catches for 39 yards by a Miami defense that often seemed to arrive at the ball quicker than Pitt's running backs did.

Offensively, Miami hardly looked like a team that hadn't played since Labor Day week. Ken Dorsey threw for 223 yards and a touchdown and led three drives that ended with touchdown runs by Clinton Portis, who ran for 131 yards despite sitting out the fourth quarter.

Dorsey rarely went deep with his throws, mostly because he didn't need to. He settled for sideline throws, swing passes to running back Najeh Davenport, who twice turned them into long gainers that led to scores, and an 18-yard fade to Andre Johnson for a touchdown.

``We were able to do some things early and that made them a little confused,'' Dorsey said. ``I don't think the layoff hurt us. We played pretty well out there, I thought.''

So did Portis, whose three touchdown runs were a career high. He said it all began with Dorsey's throwing; instead of using the run to set up the pass, Miami came out on several drives throwing to set up the run.

``That's all Ken Dorsey, just him making the right decisions at the line of scrimmage,'' Portis said of his eighth career 100-yard game.

Miami led 43-7 in the fourth quarter before backup quarterback Rod Rutherford, who accounted for all three Pitt scores, threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the closing minutes.

``I think this team would like to score 100 points and shut everybody out, but that's not realistic,'' Coker said.

Rutgers, a 61-0 loser to Miami, might disagree. So might Penn State; after Miami's 33-7 victory on Sept. 1, coach Joe Paterno said the Hurricanes might be as talented as any team that's played in Beaver Stadium.

Pitt coach Walt Harris said the Panthers could have played better, but found it difficult to make plays against a team as talented, deep, fast and relentless as Miami.

``You've got to execute better than that against the No. 1 team in the country,'' Harris said.

Pitt still hasn't beaten a No. 1 team in more than a half-century; the Panthers are 0-10-1 against them since 1950.

Coker was surprised Bryant wasn't more heavily involved in Pitt's offense, especially since he was such an integral part of it last season while winning the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver. However, Bryant resumed practicing only this week and, according to Harris, ``wasn't that sharp. He needs to practice.''

Remarkably, Coker said the same thing about the Hurricanes, who have outscored their three opponents 47-7 in the first quarter and 137-28 overall.

``Can we get better? We can get a lot better,'' Coker said.