Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer stood on the field at Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah, late last Saturday night, as a handful of fresh-faced, goggle-eyed fans clamored for a word, an autograph, a shake of the right hand that an hour before had carved up defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Miami, 28-21. Detmer wore a tattered butterfly bandage on his chin, to cover a six-stitch game wound, and a day's growth of blond stubble that appeared to be an attempt to toughen his tender looks. "We played great against a great team," Detmer said. "A great game, great to be a part of it."
A part of it? Maybe you thought the tradition of fine quarterbacks had departed the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, but now comes Detmer, out of San Antonio, slingin' leather and starting Heisman Trophy talk in Provo. On Saturday, Detmer adroitly eluded rushers and gunned the ball from his hip on the dead run to his cutting receivers' waiting palms. He connected on 38 of 54 precision throws for 406 yards into the teeth of the Hurricanes, surpassing by four the completion record against Miami held by another escape artist, Boston College's Doug Flutie. Detmer's numbers were remarkable, but they shone even brighter when compared with those of Miami's own Heisman hopeful, quarterback Craig Erickson, who completed 28 of 52 for 299 yards. "There's no doubt in my mind who's better," said BYU halfback Matt Bellini afterward. Said Erickson, "You just had to listen to the crowd roar. Ty really ignited them tonight."
The record turnout of 66,235 returned the favor by pumping the Cougars sky-high. Detmer shared the spotlight with a supporting cast that included dimeback Ervin Lee, who picked off a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone and broke up Erickson's last deep heave; BYU's offensive and stunting defensive lines, which, by outplaying both Hurricane fronts, bought Detmer time and overcame five Cougar turnovers; Earl Kauffman, who averaged 53.8 yards a punt, nailed field goals of 32 and 29 yards and booted all six of his kickoffs to unreturnable reaches; and seven receivers who, while slower than the Hurricane linebackers, nearly always found the seams in the zone and on the ball.
Miami was also done in by its own arrogance, reflected in a failed fourth-and-one gamble on the 43-yard line—its own 43—midway through the third quarter, which set up the Cougars' clinching touchdown drive'. "They're a class act," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson of the Cougars. "They came out and outplayed us. Ty Detmer is unbelievable. He made some great plays and throws with pressure in his face."
September 16, 1990
For instance, on all three of his touchdown passes, each of which was worthy of an accompanying chorus from the Tabernacle Choir. Detmer's first scoring throw, a 14-yarder with 12:44 left in the first half that tied the score at 7-7, came after he slipped from the clutches of 6'4", 260-pound defensive end Shane Curry, spun left and loosed a floater, across his body and inches over a defender, to Bellini in the left coffin corner. Detmer pursued Bellini up a runway after the catch, smacking the back of his teammate's helmet and banging him into a concrete wall. "Ty gets crazy on the field," said Bellini, who snagged 10 passes for 111 yards.
Touchdown No. 2 came with 10 seconds to go in the first half, at the end of a one-minute, 38-second fire drill in which Detmer completed all seven of his passes, for 82 yards. He danced around a Hurricane blitz long enough to let wide receiver Andy Boyce find an opening in the right corner for his two-yard toss. That put BYU up 17-14.
And then there was the third TD pass. After the Cougars had stuffed fullback Steve McGuire on that ill-fated fourth-and-one call—"I thought we had some momentum going," said coach Erickson afterward, "but obviously the way it turned out, it wasn't smart"—Detmer led the drive, keeping the Cougar march alive with a nifty fourth-and-one bootleg run for five yards to the Miami 19. Three plays later, on the seven, he faded back to pass. Lineman Russell Maryland and linebacker Jessie Armstead each drew a bead on Detmer's knees. He took their shots, spun free, then rolled right. As he threw, Armstead and three other Hurricanes zeroed in on him. After the throw, frustrated defenders collapsed on the turf like toppled bowling pins and halfback Mike Salido hoisted Detmer's strike in the end zone. Detmer, choosing to go for two points, stared hard at one receiver before suddenly turning to find Boyce all alone for the conversion. With 3:46 remaining in the third quarter, the Cougars were ahead 28-21.
After the game, Detmer smiled and explained his technique in an aw-shucks Texas twang. "I really don't know what's going on," he said. "I'm just running, and if I feel like something's going to happen, I jump back out of there and get away from it. It's like playing in the front yard when you're growing up."
Thus culminated the hype and hoopla of a week that focused attention on two quarterbacks who not only had to win a game but also had to seduce Heisman voters and live up to the reputations of their signal-calling forebears. Erickson, a senior, had purportedly been blessed with all the best attributes of former Hurricane greats Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh. Detmer, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, was the long-awaited heir to Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco.
The two quarterbacks shied away from the Heisman talk. "The way I compete with Craig is by beating their defense," said Detmer. Erickson seemed to be competing for the Nobel Peace Prize. "Ty's a great example to the youth of America, and a tribute to his university," he said. While quarterback Erickson had asked Miami not to ballyhoo him for the Heisman—with half a dozen national TV appearances by the Hurricanes, he could afford that—BYU, nestled in the netherworld of the Mountain time zone, was once again cranking out Trophy Ty-ins. Last year, the school sent each Heisman voter two cardboard ties that detailed Detmer's qualifications; for the Miami game, the Cougar flacks handed out 10,000 cravat-shaped pieces of plastic on which was printed THE OFFICIAL HEISMAN TY. A large rubber band was affixed to each for easy wearing.
Erickson and Detmer first became acquainted during a round of golf at an All-America, antidrug get-together in Phoenix last spring, and discovered that they shared a passion for the outdoors. Erickson, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., doesn't stray far from the saltwater fishing that he loves. He entered the BYU game 8-0 as a starter and was MVP of the 33-25 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama that clinched Miami's 1989 national championship.
While setting records for his coach and father, Sonny, at San Antonio's Southwest High, Detmer took one look at the pass-happy system of BYU and the mountainous landscape near Provo and, like Brigham Young himself 143 years before, knew he had found his destination. The fame of Cougar quarterbacks had dimmed since Bosco, who led BYU to the national title in 1984, departed Provo in '85. BYU coach La Veil Edwards had never met Detmer, and when the skinny freshman arrived on campus in the summer of '87, Edwards was dismayed. "I was expecting John Elway, and what I saw was Pee Wee Herman," he says. But Edwards stayed the course, with fruitful results. After a week of practice, assistant coach Norm Chow happily buttonholed Edwards and said, "We're back in the quarterback business."
Last season, Detmer became BYU's first fulltime sophomore starter at quarterback, racking up an efficiency rating of 175.6, second in NCAA history to McMahon's 176.9 in 1980. He averaged an NCAA-record 17.2 yards per completion and set a record for all bowl games by attacking Penn State for 576 yards passing, while calling audibles 60% of the time, in the Cougars' 50-39 Holiday Bowl defeat. Though his arm is not overpowering, his accuracy is uncanny. Edwards figures that if Detmer throws 60 times, he'll make only two or three bad reads. "If an offensive guard misses a block on a 30-yard pass play, Ty knows," says Bellini. "It's amazing. We have phones on the sidelines, and you can hear them ringing on the field if you make a mistake. Before you pick them up, Ty can tell you what you did wrong."
Even without the Heisman factor, a high degree of hype always accompanies the Hurricanes, whose arrival in Utah with the No. 1 ranking made this the biggest game ever played in the state. (BYU students were reportedly scalping their $3.50 seats for as much as $100 each.) As is its custom, Miami heightened the commotion by preceding its smash-mouth brand of football with its trash-mouth brand of intimidation. Early in the week, after Miami safety Darryl Williams disparaged Detmer ("He's a long way from great"), coach Erickson told his troops to wise up and shut up. They just turned the volume up. The Hurricane linemen promised to "rattle" Detmer and "get in his face and rough him up."
Detmer had faith that his cooler head would prevail. "I know they're trying to get me out of the game plan," he said last Thursday. "I've got to just stay sharp and not play an individual game." But for all his playfulness (he was recently kicked out of a water park for dragging the distaff lifeguards down the slides with him), his near-Mormon asceticism (a Methodist, he does drink iced tea, but only when home in Texas) and his gangly physique ("He looks like a dork," says cornerback Brian Mitchell), Detmer often has a hard time not behaving like a cranked-up linebacker. In winning at the University of Texas-El Paso 30-10 in the season opener on Sept. 1, Detmer was flagged for barking at an official and once tried to get a Miner lineman's mind right by rearranging his face mask. The following Monday, four BYU coaches summoned Detmer to their offices for counsel.
He also got some advice from his dad, to whom he had expressed contrition after throwing two interceptions against UTEP. Detmer seemed to have forgotten that he had also completed 33 of 46 passes for 387 yards. Recalls Sonny, "I told him, 'You don't need to be so hard on yourself. If the best game in the nation's not good enough for you, you ought to try another sport. Have some fun.' "
Last Saturday night, Detmer clearly was pleased with his performance. He may even have had some fun as he ransacked Miami's zone defense, scanning the field, looking off defenders and then watching as his receivers filled the holes in the zone. His throws sometimes arrived ugly—"Not that they're coming sideways, but they wobble a little," he says—but they arrived. Though Detmer's longest completion against Miami was a 29-yarder, he surpassed the 300-yard mark for a 14th straight regular-season game, an NCAA record. "You give him an inch," said Miami safety Hurlie Brown, "he takes it."
For all Detmer's wizardry, however, the Cougar offense went the entire fourth quarter with only one first down, and Miami had its chances to win. One Hurricane drive reached the BYU 15, but Erickson fumbled the snap and Cougar linebacker Alema Fitisemanu recovered. A second reached the 13, and Erickson fired a dart to flanker Kevin Williams under the goalpost. In stepped Lee. "He [Williams] bobbled it in the air, and I just grabbed it," said Lee. The last drive reached the 25. On fourth-and-four, Erickson read man-for-man coverage, Lee against speedy Randal (Thrill) Hill. Hill streaked toward the end zone. "All I could do is turn and run with him," said Lee. He did, every step of the way, and swatted down Miami's final hope.
"A few words to describe BYU's defense," said Erickson, a victim of three sacks and many hard knocks, "are 'over and above.' "
The Hurricanes' annual national title quest is by no means quashed; they will have ample opportunity to return to the hunt against Florida State (Oct. 6) and Notre Dame (Oct. 20). The Cougars, whose more modest aspirations include retaining the WAC title they have won 13 times since the league was founded in 1962, had wanted to gain respect against Miami. They got much more. "We've never beaten a Number One team before," said Edwards. "Except we did beat ourselves in practice a couple of times in '84."
It's early, but some provocative questions were raised on Saturday. Can BYU go unbeaten again? Is Ty an outstanding bet for the Heisman? Well, not quite yet, but one thing is clear: BYU is back in the quarterback business.