By Kirby Arnold
MIAMI – If you turned off the TV and found something better to do, or maybe just couldn’t stand to watch as Miami dismembered the Washington Huskies, you weren’t alone.
Alex Rodriguez didn’t hang around, either.
A-Rod showed up at the Orange Bowl and got some prime-time TV exposure, but disappeared faster from the Washington-Miami game than he did from the Seattle Mariners a year ago. There weren’t $252 million on the board that drove him away this time, just a zillion points.
Or so it seemed to the Huskies.
Miami overpowered Washington in every phase of the game in a 65-7 victory that verified the 10-0 Hurricanes’ standing as the nation’s best college football team. The Huskies, who held hopes that a victory would elevate them into a BCS bowl, instead fell to 8-3 and solidified their expected trip to the Holiday Bowl.
“It’s a shame to have a season tarnished in this way because of a lack of our productivity on both sides of the ball,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We need to improve a great deal as we prepare for a bowl game.”
The numbers that weren’t on the scoreboard didn’t make it look any better.
Husky quarterback Cody Pickett faced intense pressure every time he dropped back to pass and threw five interceptions. The Huskies fumbled the ball five times and lost one.
“I’m not going to point a finger at our quarterback,” Neuheisel said. “He’s the reason we’re going to a good bowl game.”
The Huskies must wait until the bowl to see how they heal from one of the worst lickings in the history of the program.
They haven’t lost by a bigger margin in 80 years – a 72-3 defeat to California in 1921 – and Saturday’s spanking tied the second-worst losing margin in school history. Oregon beat the Huskies 58-0 in 1973.
For the Huskies, who entered the game undefeated in two trips to the Orange Bowl, the only Miracle in Miami was that the second-half clock ticked away at a normal pace. In the first half, it seemed to spin backwards.
Miami overpowered the Huskies on offense, defense and special teams to score 30 points in the second quarter, the most the Huskies have ever allowed in one quarter.
It happened with such fury that lost in the carnage was that the Huskies actually played a decent first quarter.
Miami led 7-0 less than two minutes into the game after Pickett threw his first interception deep in his own territory and the Hurricanes scored on running back Clinton Portis’ 8-yard touchdown run.
Three hours and a serious tail-kicking later, Pickett still was upset with himself about that first pass.
“I threw it right to the guy,” said Pickett, who blamed himself for being too excited for the game. “We messed up in a lot of areas … and throwing that pick was the start of it.”
Still, the Huskies went on a march that made the Hurricanes look vulnerable.
They drove 78 yards in eight plays, going around and through the Miami defense with Pickett passes and runs up the middle. Rich Alexis had the biggest play, a 31-yard burst up the middle that might have been a touchdown had Miami’s Jonathan Vilma not used Alexis’ facemask to make the tackle.
The ensuing penalty still gave the Huskies the ball at the Miami 2.
And then the ugliness began.
An Alexis plunge up the middle met nothing but Orange jerseys. No gain.
Another Alexis push over tackle was stacked. One-yard loss.
Alexis gained 2 yards on the next play and, as the Huskies lined up less than a yard from the end zone on fourth down, Pickett prepared to use his mobility to make something happen.
He never got the chance.
Just as Pickett got the snap, center Kyle Benn stepped on the quarterback’s right foot. By the time Pickett finished stumbling and bumbling, he had lost 5 yards and Miami got the ball back not only with its 7-0 lead intact, but out from under the shadow of its own goalpost.
“We had called a pass (to tight end Jerramy Stevens),” Neuheisel said. “We thought we had a chance to get open on the right side.”
The Husky defense held on Miami’s next offensive series, and the teams traded punts – with a UW interception by Owen Biddle stopping one Hurricane drive deep into Husky territory – that ran out the first quarter.
Then the second quarter started, and so did the onslaught.
Miami, having driven to the Washington 30, scored on the first play of the second quarter when Portis broke over right tackle and into the open for the first of his three touchdowns.
Pickett got the Huskies near midfield on their next possession, then hit Chris Campbell in the numbers with a pass. Miami’s Chris Campbell.
The interception set up Miami’s third touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Ken Dorsey to Portis that made it 21-0.
It became 23-0 when Husky punter Derek McLaughlin couldn’t short-hop a bad snap by center John Hart, and Miami’s Kellen Winslow tackled McLaughlin for a safety with 8:18 left in the second quarter.
Miami’s Phillip Buchanon then returned McLaughlin’s punt that followed the safety, giving the Hurricanes a first down at the UW 15. With one pass, from Dorsey to Najeh Davenport, it was 30-0.
One more pass – thrown by Pickett, tipped at the line by Miami’s William Joseph and intercepted by Jerome McDougle, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown – pushed the score to 37-0.
And then relief. Time ran out in the first half.
“The game just got out of hand,” Neuheisel said.
Miami led 44-0, after Davenport’s 1-yard touchdown run five minutes into the third quarter, before the Huskies scored.
Roc Alexander returned a kickoff 67 yards to the Miami 25 – Washington’s deepest penetration since early in the first quarter – Pickett passed 20 yards to Paul Arnold and Alexis, this time, hit the end zone on a 5-yard run.
Miami scored three more times, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns after the Hurricanes pulled their starters.
By the finish, the Huskies had their backup quarterback, Taylor Barton, in the game and he drove them to the brink of the end zone. That threat ended just as the game started for the Huskies, with an interception.