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September 8, 2008

Miami shows signs of life in loss at Florida

RELATED: Florida 26, Miami 3 | Recap | Box score

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Here's a warning for the ACC: Look at Miami's final score and final numbers in the loss to Florida at your own peril.

Though the Hurricanes lost by more than three touchdowns, they are on their way back. The loss means Miami has lost seven of its past eight and 14 of its past 20 games to "Big Six" opponents, but better days are on the horizon for UM if you ask Florida coach Urban Meyer.

"They're going to be a good team," Meyer said. "If you're looking for someone to say they don't have good players, you're out of your mind. They have excellent football players on that team."

At the start of the fourth quarter, Miami had Florida on the ropes at The Swamp. The Hurricanes were down 9-3 despite a redshirt freshman quarterback, despite having 15 freshmen on the two-deep depth chart and despite losing one of its top playmakers, tailback Javarris James, to a first-quarter ankle sprain. Miami's defense had been the key, holding Florida to 243 total yards. Both Florida scores had been set up by special teams plays: a punt block and a shanked punt.

"We can build on a lot of things," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "They see we were able to play with a top-five team in the country and we had a shot. We have to be able to capitalize on that."

Miami might not have been good enough to beat Florida on Saturday, but it could be enough to make noise in a watered-down ACC. Miami is only 16-16 in the league since defecting from the Big East in 2004, but that could change in a hurry.

Quarterback Robert Marve appeared poised in his first career start. He was 10-of-18 for 69 yards and showed some playmaking ability as a runner. His passing totals weren't helped by a Miami receiving corps that dropped several passes. UM lacks playmakers on the outside, which is the most glaring weakness on the team.

"This is a tough game for anybody to be his first game," Miami junior offensive tackle Jason Fox said. "To come out and make his first start, he handled himself real well. He played real well. He didn't get scared. He was jumping up and down getting everybody motivated. He acted like he's been doing this for a long time."

Miami's youth and lack of experienced showed in the fourth quarter, when the Gators scored 17 points and gained 102 yards.

"The fourth quarter kind of got away from us," Shannon said. "Offensively, when we cross the 50-yard line, we have to make sure we capitalize. Defensively, when we have someone backed up, we have to keep them backed up."

Florida's second-half touchdown drives covered 86 and 95 yards.

On defense, a Miami bright spot was the play of true freshman linebacker Sean Spence. He finished with five tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack. He delivered a couple of punishing hits.

"We've got a shot to be real good," Shannon said. "We're not a great team. We're not where we want to be. But I think when you go on the road into a hostile environment against the No. 5 team in the country and it's 9-3 in the fourth quarter, you have a shot."

Meanwhile, when asked about Florida's field goal with 25 seconds left, Shannon offered a terse "no comment" in his post-game press conference. Sunday, though, Shannon did offer a comment, though he did not specifically mention Meyer or the field goal.

"Sometimes, when you do things and people see what kind of person you really are, you turn a lot of people off," Shannon said. "Take from that what you want. It helped us more than you will ever know."

Florida began its final possession at Miami's 16 with 1:53 left after a 31-yard punt return by Brandon James. On first down, Tebow completed a screen for 9 yards. On second down, he threw incomplete into the end zone. On third down, tailback Kestahn Moore was dropped for a 4-yard loss. Jonathan Phillips kicked a 29-yard field goal with 25 seconds left. It was the first college field goal for Phillips, a senior.

Meyer wasn't asked about the field goal after the game and has not addressed the media since Saturday.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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