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'Canes upgrade to season worth watching

Now that the Hurricanes have rebounded from their early-season swoon, it's time to find out how good they are.

The season boils down to the next three games. Miami, which had to huff and puff to get to 4-4, is about to make it over the top or fall to the bottom.

The Hurricanes beat Temple and Arkansas State by a combined89-25 the past two weeks. Hardly impressive.

Now comes the real test. Miami plays at Big East co-leader Virginia Tech on Saturday. Three weeks later, it's Syracuse.

After losing to Florida State to drop to 1-4, Miami coach Butch Davis set a goal of winning the remaining six games. The Hurricanes are halfway there.

"Any time you win three in a row, you get a bit of a spark, a bit of confidence," Davis said. "I think they feel good about some things they've done, but they need to keep in perspective who the last three opponents have been and realize that some of the things we've done are not going to be good enough in the next three games."

D-LINE STRUGGLING: There's no doubt what the offensive coaching staff at Virginia Tech will be doing this week in the film room. It will zoom in on UM's porous defensive line. Against Arkansas State, the Hurricanes gave up 173 yards rushing to a team that ranked 108th of 112 Division I-A teams at 84 yards per game.

"A lot of bad teams rise to the occasion when they play someone better," UM defensive tackle Clint Hurtt said. "Of course, I'm not using that as an excuse. We had a pitiful performance."

What's scary is that Arkansas State got 100 yards from fullback Austin Tinsley, a senior who had 472 career yards before Saturday. Next up: running back Ken Oxendine and a Virginia Tech ground game that leads the conference, averaging 220 yards.

"We'll have to do much better to win against Virginia Tech," defensive tackle Chad Pegues said.

PLENTY OF SEATS AVAILABLE: While the Hurricanes' performance is getting better, their attendance is getting worse. Temple drew 26,351 despite being moved to noon to avoid conflict with Game 6 of the World Series. Saturday's crowd was announced at 20,559.

Things likely won't get better in two weeks when winless Rutgers rolls into town. The 'Canes do get Syracuse in the finale Nov. 29, a game that could have Big East title implications. Said athletic director Paul Dee: "We have a homecoming game in two weeks against Rutgers and a Syracuse game that could be for an alliance bid if we take care of business. I hope the people come back."

LONG DRIVING: For the second straight game, Miami put together long-distance scoring drives. It had a 97-yard touchdown Saturday. The week before, UM went 98 yards against Temple.

BIG PLAYS ARE BACK: The Hurricanes seem to have found what had been missing from their offense _ big plays. Miami has scored seven touchdowns of 39 yards or more the past three games. Four have topped 55 yards.

"The big plays are helping us," said backup quarterback Scott Covington, who mopped up in the third quarter Saturday and scored on a 1-yard dive. "We feel that if we get into a shootout, we'll take the burden of doing the job."

_ CHARLES MULLING

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