Friday, December 19, 2003

Ben has nothing to prove in college

MOBILE, Ala. - The first time Miami had the ball Thursday night, RedHawks quarterback Ben Marino took them 88 yards in six plays. Ben Favre finished it off by scrambling to buy time, then throwing 28 yards to Michael Larkin, who was open in the end zone for several weeks.

Louisville closed to 21-7 in the second quarter, until Ben Montana threw 16 yards to his tight end, Matt Brandt. Benner Esiason rolled left on the play, right into the alleged clutches of the Cardinals' 250-pound defensive end, Elvis Dumervil. Ben flicked him as if he were lint. Elvis was all shook up. Ben rolled back to the right, then fired the touchdown pass to Brandt.

With 10:26 left in the first half, Ben McNair was 12-for-13 for 203 yards and three TDs. Try doing that on your Nintendo. Three minutes later, Ben Manning pump-faked the Louisville secondary into a coma. Then he threw 26 yards to Larkin, who was again so alone, he had time to take a bath and a final before looking up for the ball.

This was the GMAC Bowl which, for Louisville, translated into Get Me A Cornerback. Ben, um, Roethlisberger, Miami's NFL franchise-QB-in-waiting, was 16-for-20 for 291 yards and four TD passes. In the first half. It was ridiculous. It was enough to make Mel Kiper go bald.


Photos of Thursday's game
Ben "Steve'' Young won't be going back to Oxford for a senior season. He declared for the NFL draft in the postgame, in front of 10 of his teammates and his coach, Terry Hoeppner. It was really the only thing to do. This business of topping himself in college would never have been easy again. Not after the first half last night.

(Did we mention Ben Guy's 45-yard punt in the 2nd quarter, that the RedHawks downed on the Louisville 2?)

Louisville's plan coming in was to slow Ben down by keeping the ball away from him. Given the Cardinals allow 26 points and 414 yards a game, they'd have been better off stealing Roethlisberger from the Mobile Marriott on Thursday afternoon.

Miami unleashed the full Ben arsenal in the first half: Ben dropping back five steps, Ben in the shotgun, Ben rolling, Ben having so much time to be Ben, he outdid himself. After Roethlisberger threw his fourth TD pass with 6:51 left in the half, Miami led, 35-7. If you're Pat Narduzzi, Miami's defensive coordinator, what do you say at halftime? "Hold 'em to 40, men, and we'll win going away."

We won't indict the Cardinals offense for any of this. They played well enough to keep things compelling. Practicing against Louisville's defense must give them confidence.

With 20 seconds left in the first half, Lionel Gates went 88 yards off tackle, to the Miami 6. All Gates was trying to do was run out the clock. As it was, Louisville scored to make it 35-21.

The Cards got within 35-28, but two 4th quarter turnovers killed them. All that remained was a Miami celebration and wake, all at once. The best season in school history ended with the best player in school history saying goodbye.

With No. 7, Miami would have been preseason top 20, with more recruit-wooing publicity than it has ever had. Without him, Miami is another team in the MAC, hoping for a GMAC Bowl rerun.

"It's the right thing to do, for him,'' Hoeppner said, and it was. This was the way to go out. This was closing a three-year run in Phantom of the Opera by hitting every high note and watching the roses gather at your feet.

Take heart, Miami fans. That first half last night made a forever memory. As someone once (almost) said, "We'll always have Mobile."



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