Bernie Kosar, Miami's unfreshmanlike freshman quarterback, characterizes the Hurricane offense as "disciplined." He figures it has to be to execute all the gymnastics and high-wire acts that Coach Howard Schnellenberger demands of it. On the other hand, Miami Middle Guard Tony Fitzpatrick, the stubby block of muscle and mouth who's what you might expect to get if you crossed the understander on an Irish tumbling team with a Tazmanian devil, characterizes the Hurricane defense as "loose" and, well, loud. It rags and jaws and talks trash, and pops opposing players with such percussion the Gatorade trembles in the cups along the sidelines. It harasses, it intimidates, it dominates. In other words, says a rival coach who doesn't have to play Miami this year, "It's a joy to watch."
The Hurricanes are the most amazing college football team of 1983, and the amazing Kosar, with his wonderful right arm and his 3.4 GPA—he passes and passes—is as responsible as any individual for that. Kosar keeps outgunning the big guns, as he did in Saturday's shootout with West Virginia's Jeff Hostetler, and Miami's offense keeps rolling ever closer to an Orange Bowl date with Nebraska.
It's the Hurricane defensive unit, however, that's really amazing. Granted the peculiarities of polls, bowl committees and conference tie-ups—not to mention the four hairy weekends left in the season—the Miami defense may be the only one left with a chance to spike No. 1 Nebraska and its prepotent attack. The prerequisites for such an appetizing matchup, of course, are that the Cornhuskers win the Big Eight title and that Miami beat East Carolina and Florida State in its last two games. The Orange Bowl committee has its breath held.
In their mad dash up the rankings, the Hurricanes have won eight consecutive games since opening with a 28-3 loss at Florida. Last week before a howling crowd of 63,881 at the Orange Bowl, Miami brushed aside 11th-ranked West Virginia 20-3 just about as easily as the irrepressible Fitzpatrick says he handles opposing centers: "I flip 'em around like a dishrag." The first 10 times the Mountaineers ran the ball, they netted a grand total of zero yards. Counting six sacks, West Virginia backs wound up with a net two yards on the ground, and Hostetler, who had been averaging 200 yards passing, was held to 166 in 29 attempts. He was benched in the fourth quarter when Coach Don Nehlen decided that "he might get killed out there."
Not to worry too much, Coach. For all the flaring nostrils and airy emissions, Miami's defense is as disciplined as its offense—"like a Rolex watch," says Fitzpatrick. It was as much technique as terror that stopped Hostetler. The Hurricane defense, which ranks second in the nation in fewest yards allowed (241 per game), is tutored by a civilized and quiet man named Tom Olivadotti—Commander O to the troops—who contrives so many deceptive alignments and coverages that beaten rivals frequently can't tell what Miami did, even after seeing the films. Commander O's troops include a few bona fide talents and a bunch of guys who make up for not being great by playing great. Linebacker Jay Brophy, for example, is an All-America candidate who studies films and picks up things. Last week he detected that Hostetler has a tendency to keep both hands on the ball when he's going to drop back to pass, but only one when he's going to hand off. That's the sort of info an active linebacker can make hay with. Brophy had a hand in a game-high 15 tackles.
And, of course, there's Fitzpatrick, who passed up a chance to go to Liberty Baptist in Lynchburg, Va., the only school other than Miami to offer him a scholarship. Until he tore a tendon in his left biceps late in the game, an injury that requires surgery and will knock him out for the year, Fitzpatrick was having the season of a lifetime. Early against the Mountaineers he put Hostetler down with emphasis, and as the two of them got up he says the quarterback asked him,
"What's your first name, Fitzpatrick?"
"I got a feeling I'm gonna see a lot more of you today."
"You can count on it."
After the Mountaineers capped a game-opening 75-yard drive with a short field goal, the Hurricanes retaliated with an icy-cool 81-yard scoring march. In it the remarkably poised Kosar—his concentration is so good that he says he often doesn't realize he has been knocked down on a pass rush until he finds himself getting back up—completed five passes. Four were to Tight End Glenn Dennison, who has hands like tar buckets and sets a school receiving record every time he catches the ball. His last grab on the drive was for 19 yards and the go-ahead-for-good TD.
Miami went up 10-3 in the second quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Jeff Davis and then opened the third quarter with another long drive that led to a Davis kick from 31 yards. The Hurricanes clinched the game with a 90-yard scoring drive that was climaxed by a five-yard pass from Kosar to Running Back Keith Griffin with 13:13 to play. The big number was a 49-yard pass to Wide Receiver Eddie Brown. Kosar reads blitzes and coverages as if they were primers, and against the Mountaineers he completed 19 of 36 throws for 211 yards and had four or five perfect passes dropped.
The Hurricanes have won 23 of 25 games at home under Schnellenberger, who plucked the Miami program out of the ashes five years ago. After Saturday's game, Schnellenberger, who's apparently into analogies these days, told his team, "It's a horse race now, with other horses ahead but struggling and the finish line in sight." He likened the Hurricanes' circumstances to "being two pitches away from victory in the ninth inning." They believe him.
Who knows? Maybe Nebraska will, too, come Jan. 2.