Miami coach miffed because fans and pollsters don't like his mercy

November 03, 1992|By Ken Rodriguez | Ken Rodriguez,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- If the University of Miami football team has the nation's best starting defense, what can be said of its second- and third-teamers who have yielded a combined 40 points in the fourth quarter of the past two games?

After West Virginia rallied from a 35-3 deficit Saturday with three touchdowns in the final three minutes of a 35-23 loss, some Miami starters were upset.

"I have to question those guys," said receiver Lamar Thomas. "Maybe they don't want to be No. 1. . . We've gone from being the big bad boys of college football to the good guys."

Said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, "At least my kids didn't quit."

Fans have criticized coach Dennis Erickson for his substitutions the past two weeks, claiming they have hurt Miami in the polls. Washington's 41-7 victory Saturday over Stanford combined with Miami's triumph over West Virginia, dropped the Hurricanes to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll.

"I heard people in the stands the other night booing the living heck out of me when the score was close," Erickson said. "I mean, please, what kind of monster have we created? I want to win as bad as anybody, but to go against everything I believe in, to run the score up, that's ridiculous."

Erickson's philosophy for substituting is simple: game gets out of hand, he empties the bench. But not all at once. The Hurricanes have such depth that at least five backups -- defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Kenny Lopez, cornerback Paul White, linebacker Rohan Marley and strong safety Malcolm Pearson -- are considered regulars who often rotate with starters.

Erickson works in other reserves by piecemeal. A couple of linemen here, a couple of defensive backs there. He rarely substitutes one entire unit for another.

"When you gain control of a game," Erickson said, "you gotta get your other guys in there to get some playing experience."

Despite the 40 fourth-quarter points surrendered in the past two games, Miami remains among NCAA Division I-A defensive leaders. The Hurricanes are No. 7 in scoring defense, allowing 12.5 points per game, and No. 13 in total defense, yielding 282.1 yards.

Erickson insists he doesn't worry about polls -- "If polls were important to me and I felt I had to beat somebody 70-0, I would never take anybody out," he said -- but also says pollsters shouldn't drop Miami because of the way its reserves played in the final minutes against the Mountaineers.

"If we lost votes because of our performance in the last five minutes, that's ridiculous," he said. "What kind of message are you putting out to college athletics? That you have to slaughter somebody? That you can't give second-team guys an opportunity when it's 35-3 with five minutes to go?

"But if you're voting against us because of how Washington played, that's fine. They played a quality opponent. But don't not vote for us because of what happened in the last five minutes. That sends everybody a poor message."

Erickson said the second-team players expected to start next year -- Marley, Pearson, Sapp, White, Robert Bass -- are talented but need playing time. Ditto for the guys at the bottom of the depth chart.

And Erickson insists he won't alter his substitution philosophy.

"The second and third guys have to be more accountable," he said. "That group has to go out like they have an opportunity to play for the national championship."

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