It was 2002, and the top-ranked Hurricanes were visiting upstate New York to play a November game against Syracuse. On the afternoons first play, Ken Dorsey hit Andre Johnson for a first down, and just like that, Miami was on the move. The very next play, tailback Willis McGahee took the Dorsey handoff, and in a blink of an eye, he was gone, 61-yards for a touchdown. Second play of the game. Like a bullet.
Willis McGahee in 2002 was a problem pic.twitter.com/uz8sYsuNwm— Mamba Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) March 23, 2020
Heading into the 2002 season, the biggest question was, how could McGahee replace Clinton Portis? Portis had been Miami’s running back the year prior, and was a big part in the Hurricanes run to the national title. Could McGahee secure the starting job over Jarrett Payton and Frank Gore?
The answer to both of those questions was a resounding yes. McGahee was flat out unstoppable in 2002 in the Hurricanes backfield, and was the ultimate weapon for the Miami offense.
That play against the Orangemen in November was just one of many highlights that McGahee produced throughout the 2002 season. During that fall, McGahee had himself perhaps the finest season ever by a Miami Hurricanes running back, as he set a school record with 1,753 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground.
He also set another school record in the final regular season game against Virginia Tech. Needing a win to advance to the national championship, McGahee stepped up, and then some. Willis carried the ball 39 times, for 205 yards and a UM record six rushing touchdowns.
Never forget the day McGahee scored six touchdowns against Va Tech pic.twitter.com/btKwWeuBw3— Mamba Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) March 23, 2020
His biggest play of the season? That came several weeks prior to Virginia Tech and Syracuse, back in October, when arch-rival Florida State was in town. With FSU leading 27-21 late in the fourth quarter, Miami began their drive on their own 21-yard line. McGahee caught a simple screen pass from Dorsey, and took it 68-yards down to the Noles 11 yard line, setting up the go-ahead touchdown on the very next play.
Talk about a deafening explosion from the OB. Willis McGahee taking the screen down the sideline in 2002 and completely changing the game is a play that will forever live in Hurricane history. #OBmemories. pic.twitter.com/XGLI9m37ZG— Canes Legacy (@CanesLegacy) November 16, 2019
I’ll always remember when Miami was hosting Larry Fitzgerald and Pitt on a Thursday night in the Orange Bowl. The Canes were struggling in the first half, and with two minutes to go before halftime, Pitt led 14-7. Then all of a sudden, Willis to the rescue. Boom, touchdown. Fear no more.
Last McGahee highlight of the day.— Mamba Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) March 23, 2020
His 2002 stats: 1,753 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns, both are Miami records pic.twitter.com/MUYlsFhP3B
2002 was the first season I really started to watch football and the Canes, so McGahee was really the first superstar I remember watching on the gridiron for Miami. I had never seen someone that fast, it was like he was pulled from a comic book, and then was given that iconic visor.
Unfortunately, McGahee is remembered by some because of the brutal injury he suffered against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Still, when you think of the 2002 Hurricanes season, more often than not, the first thing you think about is Willis McGahee, and how dominant he was. In my opinion, he ranks right at the top for running backs in Miami history.