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Sapp, 'Canes regain their strut

Miami defensive lineman Warren Sapp is certain the Hurricanes are back at gale force. Seventeen Hurricanes penalties for 152 yards against West Virginia, Sapp believes, is as good a barometer as any.

"How many penalties did we have? It looks like Miami football again," Sapp said, laughing.

Sapp's laugh was purposely exaggerated. And the rest of the Hurricanes were strutting, crowing and preening, too, after winning three straight, including two in a row over Florida State and West Virginia, teams that beat Miami last season.

"We're right in the hunt for the championship," Sapp said. "It's all in front of us now. We've got five games left and a bowl game after that."

Quarterback Frank Costa agreed that Miami, ranked sixth, still has a chance.

"We're right in it," he said. "You see how teams fall off, like Florida, and we already beat Florida State.

"If we win the rest of our games, and that's no easy feat, we'll be right in it New Year's Day, hopefully in the Orange Bowl."

One of the major stumbling blocks between the Hurricanes and their third Big East title in four seasons comes Saturday when they play No. 13 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Virginia Tech (7-1, 4-1) was picked in the preseason as Miami's top league competition and has only stumbled once, at Syracuse.

"Virginia Tech is probably the biggest game of the year," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said. " Virginia Tech has a high-powered offense and they can play defense "

One of Virginia Tech's strongest points is, in fact, its defense. And Miami's offensive line hardly looked devastating against West Virginia's defense, springing Hurricanes runners for only 132 yards in the 38-6 win.

In praising his defense, Mountaineers coach Don Nehlen touched on the performance of the Miami line.

"Those guys for Miami, unless you're blind, did you see how big they were? And they didn't handle our front. They didn't handle them at all," Nehlen said.

Nothing special: The Hurricanes' special teams continue to struggle. UM has been troubled by poor snaps on punts throughout the season. But it was the kickers who slumped against West Virginia.

Kicker Dane Prewitt missed three extra points, two wide left and one wide right. Punter Mike Crissy mishandled a snap leading to West Virginia's only touchdown.

"The PATs were terrible," said Erickson. "Just terrible. If I knew what the problem was, it wouldn't have happened."

The only highlight was provided by returner Jammi German, who returned four punts for 54 yards, including a 24-yarder.

_ Correspondent Randy Cremer contributed to this report.