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November 11, 2005

No. 3 Miami getting swagger back

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. - They dance while doing their pregame stretching, whoop and holler after making a big tackle and pile on teammates in the end zone after touchdowns.

And, they aren't afraid to toss verbal barbs right back at fans who taunt them in unfriendly stadiums.

It's easy to see that No. 3 Miami is playing with plenty of confidence, something only natural for a team with a seven-game winning streak - the fifth-longest current run in Division I-A football.

But their newfound swagger aside, the Hurricanes also insist that their bags aren't packed for Jacksonville and the Atlantic Coast Conference title game - and that they'll be taking nothing for granted down the stretch of the regular season.

"You've got to realize what we're trying to focus on is beating Wake Forest this week," quarterback Kyle Wright said. "If we don't win out, all those dreams are gone. We can't even think about them anymore. So we've got to realize what's in front of us."

Miami (7-1, 4-1) visits Wake Forest (4-6, 3-4) on Saturday. It's the first of three hurdles the team must clear to guarantee a rematch with Florida State at the ACC's title game in Jacksonville on Dec. 3. The Seminoles beat the Hurricanes on Labor Day in the teams' season-opener.

Home games with Georgia Tech and Virginia also await the Hurricanes, who say they know how to walk the fine line between exuberance and overzealousness when it comes to the on-field strutting.

"We're having fun. We're dancing around," linebacker Willie Williams said. "I mean, you can't be uptight all the time. This is football. It's not church or nothing.

"You've got to have fun with this. If you make a tackle, do some jumping jacks. Be happy. You've got to have fun with this. When you have fun, you take a lot of pressure off yourself."

Indeed, that was the case at Virginia Tech, when more than 65,000 people piled into Lane Stadium to try to cajole their then-unbeaten Hokies past the Hurricanes for what would have been a third straight year.

But the Hurricanes embraced the scene. Some players said they found the pregame atmosphere in Blacksburg last weekend more invigorating than intimidating, and Miami won 27-7.

"It wasn't surprising in the fact that we could do that," left tackle Eric Winston said. "I was surprised that it actually happened like that. Usually you don't go into that environment, against that kind of team, and beat them soundly like that."

Miami coach Larry Coker doesn't mind the on-field theatrics, provided the celebrations aren't deemed excessive and get tagged with a 15-yard penalty - and that his players remember they're still a long way away from being crowned champions.

"We haven't won anything yet," Coker said. "We've got three tough games left. All we have now is an opportunity. That's an opportunity we wanted.

"We're moving up where we'd like to be and now it's up to us to take advantage of the opportunity."

For more coverage of the Miami Hurricanes, check out CaneSport.com.

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