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Sun Bowl notebook: Both teams have known frantic finishes

Washington State wide receiver River Cracraft, right, here making a first-half catch, had the winning reception against Rutgers.
Washington State wide receiver River Cracraft, right, here making a first-half catch, had the winning reception against Rutgers.
Jacob Thorpe And Jim Allen Staff writers

EL PASO, Texas – Eight laterals. Three missed calls. A 91-yard kickoff return with six seconds left and one win that should have been a loss.

While Washington State has had some close finishes, they pale in comparison to Miami’s win over Duke, which saw the Hurricanes beat the Blue Devils with a kick return thanks to officials overlooking a player tackled, a block in the back and a 12th player running onto the field. The game’s officiating crew was subsequently suspended by the ACC.

But Miami coach Larry Scott knows the Cougars have had success in frantic finishes, too, completing four fourth-quarter comebacks in their eight wins.

There was Luke Falk’s touchdown pass to River Cracraft with 13 seconds left to win at Rutgers, his scoring throw to Dom Williams with a second left on the clock to send the game against Oregon to overtime, and a similar clutch play to get Gabe Marks the ball in the end zone with just three seconds left against UCLA.

“You watch all their games and they’ve been in every one of them,” said Scott, who’s predicting a close finish. “Make no mistake – you see it on film, they play hard, they play together. They’re physical, everything they do is fast and you really see how good a football team this is, top to bottom. That in itself got our kids’ attention right away.”

Weather not a concern

The teams could not have had more different practice conditions in the weeks leading up to the game. Where Miami’s practices were sun-kissed events surrounded by palm trees, the Cougars saw snow nearly every day as they hit the practice field, or the indoor practice field as the weather dictated.

The weather for Saturday’s game is expected to split the difference, with anticipated temperatures in the mid-40s and light rain expected to start right around kickoff. WSU coach Mike Leach doesn’t expect the rain to affect his passing offense, saying on Friday that he has always considered wind to be a bigger detriment to quarterbacks than rain, and noting that the Cougars played in heavy rain this season against Portland State, Rutgers and Oregon, the latter two in victories.

’Canes conquer adversity

Miami coach Larry Scott said he measures adversity by how his players and coaches react to it.

“You can tell by the bounce in your step and the smile on your face,” said Scott, the Hurricanes’ interim coach following the midseason firing of Al Golden.

On top of that, cornerback Artie Burns’ mother died the same day, one day after Miami suffered a program-worst 58-0 loss to Clemson.

The adversity isn’t over – most of the coaches still don’t know whether they’ll be retained by new coach Mark Richt – but Scott is past that.

“These kids have come a long way,” Scott said Friday. “The expectations are always high at the University of Miami, and they know that, they recognize that.

“But when things don’t the way you expect, you have to make a decision about how much this means to you.”

Since Scott took over, Miami has won four of five. However, he gave most of the credit to Golden. “The foundation for this was laid in January,” he said.

For some players, a change of scenery didn’t hurt. “A lot of our kids haven’t seen mountains before,” he said.

Miami coach assesses Falk

Asked whether he could compare Falk to anyone in the ACC, Scott paused to reflect.

Then he called Falk the best pure passer he’s seen this year.

“His tempo and accuracy and what they (the Cougars) do offensively speaks for itself,” Scott said.

“He’s a little different in that he’s a pure pocket passer,” said Scott, whose defense was overwhelmed by mobile quarterbacks at Clemson and North Carolina.

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