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No. 10 Miami has eyes wide open against Syracuse

MIAMI -- What once looked like a setup win for Miami took on a much different look after last week's results.

Syracuse's 27-24 upset of then-No. 2 Clemson got the attention of the 10th-ranked Hurricanes (5-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who look to stretch their winning streak to 11 games when they host the Orange (4-3, 2-1) Saturday afternoon.

As is their custom, Miami's players were gathered in a local hotel last Friday night before their next day's game with Georgia Tech and watched the Orange's impressive showing against the Tigers.

"Our guys were watching it live and saw for themselves what was about to come up this weekend," Miami coach Mark Richt said. "I didn't have to really explain much of anything."

What the Hurricanes saw was an impressive offensive show led by Orange quarterback Eric Dungey, who passed for 278 yards. Six of his completions went to wide receiver Steve Ishmael for 73 yards and a touchdown, and four went to Ervin Phillips for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Ishmael ranks second in the nation in receptions per game (8.9) and third in receiving yards (802). Phillips is tied for fifth in receptions per game (8.0).

"It's amazing what they've done," Richt said. "Philips actually caught 17 catches in one game."

That came in a 33-25 loss to North Carolina State that put the Orange in a 2/3 hole overall and got them off to an 0-1 start in league play. The Orange got back to even for the season with a win over Pittsburgh the next week, then stunned Clemson.

As key as the offense was to the win over the Tigers, it was the Orange's defense that may have been the difference. It gave up only 17 points -- one of the Tigers' touchdowns came on a fumble recovery by the Clemson defense -- and 113 rushing yards. Syracuse recorded four sacks while shutting out the Tigers in the fourth quarter.

"The momentum kept changing," Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. "We'd go ahead and they'd come back. The guys never put their heads down and never had any doubt. That's the part that I am most proud about. We kept fighting back."

Babers singled out junior defensive tackle Chris Slayton for his play. Slayton had one of the four sacks among his three tackles, all solo efforts.

"He plays his position like a grown man in a grown man's league," Babers said. "He is the key to what we do on defense, and he is going to be a professional football player."

Richt noticed.

"Their defense has improved by 14 points per game to this point in the season to where they were a year ago, which is a monster change," he said. "You can see why. They're super-fast, physical -- they bring it to you.

"They don't sit back. They rush hard, they pressure the quarterback, they outnumber the run game and play a bunch of lockdown coverage and do it extremely well. It's going to be a big challenge for us."

Miami running back Travis Homer had a spectacular debut as a starter in replacing the injured Mark Walton against Georgia Tech. He showed a toughness in rushing for 170 yards on just 20 carries, carrying would-be tacklers for extra yards inside.

The Hurricanes are coming off two emotional, heart-stopping wins that came down to the final seconds. A touchdown pass to little-used wide receiver Darrell Langham provided the deciding score in a 24-20 win at Florida State, and another long pass to Langham set up the game-winning field goal in a 25-24 decision over Georgia Tech.

Quarterback Malik Rosier is a hot-and-cold passer who has been hot at the right times in engineering those come-from-behind wins. He has completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 274 yards per game, even though his potential top target, receiver Ahmmon Richards, has played in only one game while coping with a hamstring issue. He is considered day-to-day.

Miami is in the Top 10 for the first time since last season, when they started the year by winning their first four games. Richt demurred, however, when asked if the rise from No. 18 in the preseason was an indication he was ahead of schedule in his rebuilding project with the Hurricanes.

"First of all, you're not a Top-10 program unless at the end of the year you're a Top-10 program," he said. "We were ranked 10th last year and lost four in a row, so we became unranked. We were happy to be ranked at the end of the year."

The Hurricanes finished No. 20 in the final postseason poll after beating West Virginia 31-14 in their bowl game.

"We were at least a little bit relevant," Richt said. "We finished with five wins and a bowl win, which was big. But we're not at the point where we can just line up and impose our will on people."