Sunday, September 28, 2003

Ben fits perfectly at Miami


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OXFORD - The coeds uptown don't slip their phone numbers to Miami quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he said, the way they did Wally Szczerbiak. Roethlisberger lives on campus, but his phone is always off the hook, so when you call, it goes directly to voice mail.

"We have cell phones," he said, "for when it's important."

Roethlisberger is a BMOC at a place where the term still works. Miami is so thoroughly collegial, even the ivy has to pass an admissions test. Roethlisberger even suggests he's just a regular student. "Thank goodness this isn't a big football campus," he decided Saturday.

Believe what you will. As Michael Larkin, his roommate of three years, said, "It's a very good deal here, being him."

Roethlisberger threw for 377 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. With him, we're starting to see what happens when the head catches up with the arm.

PHOTO GALLERY

Photos of Saturday's game
"I'm more mature, I don't get as mad at myself" when things don't go well, Roethlisberger said. He beat Cincinnati for the third year in a row, the same way he did the other two years, only better. It was a very good deal.

The whole thing almost blew up Saturday. Miami built a 28-0 lead, then a 42-17 lead, then said some prayers. The Bearcats scored 20 points in the last 13 minutes. They needed 26. Given the gutsy comeback, you could almost forget how Miami took such leads.

If you're an NFL scout, you probably couldn't. You'll see Roethlisberger, 6-5, 240 - "almost intimidating," Larkin called him - standing like a conductor in the pocket, looking left, right and across the center, picking, choosing and throwing fastballs like it's October and he's a Yankee.

"You don't have to make amazing catches with him," Larkin said. "He's usually putting the ball right on your body. It's worse (for defenses) when he gets out of the pocket. He can pull up and throw on a dime."

Or run.

Miami led 21-0 in the second quarter, when Roethlisberger ditched the rush and headed unbothered down the left sideline. He started at the UC 35-yard line and ended at the UC 3-inch line. At the 2, Roethlisberger tried to vault cornerback Zach Norton.

"I saw a little opening. I knew the guy was probably going low on me," Roethlisberger said. Norton flipped him. Roethlisberger landed on his right shoulder. "I said, 'Get up, Get up,' " Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said.

A play later, Miami led 28-0. Seemingly, all that remained was to wonder if Roethlisberger would return for a senior season in Oxford. It's a heck of a choice: potential NFL millions? Or another year of fabulous coeds trying to slip you their phone numbers?

That's when the Bearcats made the daydreaming irrelevant, and the game as interesting as it deserved to be. Still, there was no question who was the best player out there.

"He'll look to one side and roll to the other," said UC safety Doug Monaghan.

"You get tired" chasing Roethlisberger, said defensive end Andre Frazier.

Roethlisberger threw 7 yards for a TD to Matt Brandt to make it 35-17. His 27-yarder to Martin Nance, to the UC 3, set up

Miami's last score. In the three games since a bad opener at Iowa, Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,060 yards and seven touchdowns. Miami has averaged more than 500 yards and 40 points. It's a very good deal, being Ben. For both Ben and Miami.

The BMOC isn't getting carried away. "You go uptown and see a No. 7 jersey in the window and you chuckle," he said, "but I'm a regular student. That's all I am."

Except on Saturday afternoons. There's nothing regular about him then.

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E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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