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Offense stumbles while defense hums

The Miami Hurricanes' defense provided evidence that Saturday's probable Big East title clash with Syracuse won't turn into an offensive shootout.

But the UM offense also showed signs in its 24-3 win over Virginia Tech that the Hurricanes won't get into a scoring match with the Orangemen.

Fifth-ranked UM (3-0 Big East, 6-1 overall) and Syracuse (4-0, 6-1) play in the Carrier Dome this week for the open lane to the Big East crown.

"We didn't play extremely well on offense," UM coach Dennis Erickson said. "We didn't execute well at times, but we were also playing one of the top defenses in the country and that had something to do with our problems moving the ball."

Quarterback Frank Costa did nothing to convince anyone that he can consistently win games with his passing. Costa passed for just 147 yards, his lowest output of the season, and his only TD pass was the result of a great leaping catch by Yatil Green.

"I could have played a lot better but I thought I made the plays I needed to make," Costa said.

The critical area if UM does get in a track meet with Syracuse (averaging 25.6 points per game) will be the running game.

For the second straight game the Hurricanes struggled without starting fullback James Stewart. Stewart sprained his ankle against Florida State and hasn't played since, but he's expected to be ready for Syracuse.

The Hurricanes rushed for just 132 yards against West Virginia two weeks ago, and they had just 2 yards rushing at halftime versus Virginia Tech. But behind Danyell Ferguson (67 yards) and Al Shipman (48), UM broke loose in the second half to finish with 197 yards rushing.

One-man defense: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis' 17 tackles against Virginia Tech were 12 more than any other Hurricane. He also had half of UM's eight broken-up passes.

Lewis leads the team with 102 tackles. All-American Warren Sapp is second with 46. Last year, Lewis was fourth with 76 tackles in nine games.

The true sophomore, who has recorded double-digit tackles in every game since making just five in the season-opening blowout of Georgia Southern, is on a pace to make 160 tackles this season. The school record of 164 by Ed Wisacosky has stood 30 years.

"Ray Lewis is playing like somebody who belongs on Sundays (in the NFL)," said Erickson. "It's hard to explain just how he can dominate a game like he did."