MIAMI GARDENS — It's in Donna Shalala's hands now.
The University of Miami president watched the Hurricanes pound USF 40-9 to clinch postseason eligibility Saturday afternoon. Now, it's officially decision time.
Appease the NCAA as the long-running investigation of UM's past recruiting infractions continues or push forward with a BCS bowl still in the realm of possibility? Either way, the Hurricanes can win their first Coastal Division title Saturday at Duke. After that, Shalala and the UM legal team will decide if the Hurricanes play on.
Coach Al Golden said he is fine with the game plan.
"She was in rooms when they made decisions of whether they were going to overthrow heads of state or whether we were going to commit troops," Golden said referring to Shalala's 1993-01 run as secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services. "I think she can handle this one."
Miami (6-5, 4-3 ACC) forced the difficult postseason decision in convincing fashion. Controlling Saturday's game from the start, Miami's struggling defense kept the opposition from the end zone for the first time since beating USF 6-3 last season. Fittingly, Miami self-imposed a bowl ban after gaining eligibility against the Bulls last season.
Golden said he's not involved in the postseason decision-making process and knew of no timetable for a verdict or announcement. Having a de facto ACC Coastal Division title game Saturday in Durham helps deflect the potential distractions in the locker room. Several Hurricanes said playing or not playing in the postseason wasn't much of a talking point within the team.
"I wouldn't be disappointed," said freshman Duke Johnson, UM's leading rusher Saturday with 66 yards on 13 carries. "Coming in, we knew what we were walked into."
On Saturday, USF faced a pass-happy Miami offense that rekindled its early-season explosiveness. Quarterback Stephen Morris threw for 413 yards on 21 of 32 passing and three touchdowns. He joined 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta as the only Hurricane quarterbacks with three 400-yard games in a career.
And Morris did it with a short deck.
Playing with just three healthy scholarship wide receivers, Morris and backup Ryan Williams used six different targets in running up 456 yards. Career highs were recorded by freshman Herb Waters (four for 130 yards), senior Kendal Thompkins (three for 80 yards) and tight end Clive Walford (three for 135 yards).
Thompkins, whose only two receptions this season came in the Week 2 loss at Kansas State, had a 15-yard touchdown in the second quarter for his second career score. Waters' first career touchdown, an 87-yarder from Morris, was the longest Miami pass play in five seasons. Thanks to Phillip Dorsett's 104-yard game, Miami had three triple-digit receiving totals for the first time in at least 31 years.
The Bulls' pass defense, statistically among the worst nationally, was just "poor," coach Skip Holtz said.
The Miami running game took a back seat a week after rushing for a season-high 233 yards at Virginia. The Hurricanes netted 92 yards with Mike James adding 25, but Morris' three sacks set them back 23 combined yards.
Still, the 548 Hurricane yards were the most since gaining 651 in the Sept. 29 win over North Carolina State.
USF was plain bad for long stretches Saturday. Even when it put together the best drive of the game, the Bulls mismanaged the clock with three timeouts. Settling for a short field goal on the final play of the half, USF trailed 16-3 after turning the ball over twice and muffing a punt.
The Bulls (3-7) totaled 358, becoming the first of Miami's FBS opponents who failed to gain 400 yards. Their quarterback situation went from bad to worse early on, though.
Playing without starter B.J. Daniels for the first time, backup quarterback Bobby Eveld lasted only three possessions. His first-quarter shoulder injury forced freshman Matt Floyd into action and a 20-for-35 passing line for 175 yards and two interceptions.
"It feels awesome," said Miami linebacker Jimmy Gaines, owner of a second-quarter interception. "We finally put it together and it's really exciting for it to all come together."
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