In the fourth quarter on a sweltering afternoon in the Orange Bowl, a Miami victory over Florida State, as well as the Hurricanes' hopes of staying in the national championship race, depended on a thing as strange as the run. Afterward, Miami tackle Mike Sullivan would say that all he could hear during a near-flawless Hurricane drive that consumed more than six minutes was the sound of his own labored breathing. Center Darren Handy had begun the drive by pointing a fist and saying, "That's the goal line, that's where we're going." With just over five minutes left to play last Saturday, and Miami leading 24-16, fullback Steve McGuire, trying to fit his mouthpiece under a magnificently split lip, followed Sullivan and Handy for a two-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach and shoved the Hurricanes back into title contention with a 31-22 victory.
It wasn't a game so much as a killing. Miami clubbed Florida State facedown in the dirt for 334 yards rushing, broke the Seminoles' 14-game winning streak, longest in the nation, and exposed the visitors from Tallahassee as young, intimidated impostors.
The Hurricanes led 24-6 at the half and then stopped a creeping Seminole comeback in the fourth quarter with that 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive accomplished almost exclusively on the ground. "It was a thing of beauty," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said. The Hurricanes' final score made Florida State reserve quarterback Casey Weldon's 19-yard scoring pass to tight end Dave Roberts with 24 seconds remaining merely an afterthought.
Surely these ground-bound Hurricanes belonged somewhere else—somewhere cold and muddy instead of the balmy confines of the Orange Bowl, which throughout the '80s had become a showplace of passing for Quarterback U. In the post-game locker room, the Miami players displayed the battered faces and banged-up bodies of a Woody Hayes squad. The brutal line play left redshirt sophomore McGuire with that swollen lower lip, as well as a career-high 176 yards on 31 carries. The alternate runner in the Hurricane one-back offense, Leonard Conley, winced away from the field with 144 yards on 16 carries, also a personal best, and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Craig Erickson handed off more than twice as many times as he threw, and the receiving tandem of Wesley Carroll and Randal Hill did not catch a single pass. Miami rushed 52 times, while Erickson completed 13 of 23 pass attempts for 128 yards. The Hurricanes entered the game having decided to establish the run against an inexperienced Florida State defense with so many injuries that the Seminoles had no full-contact practices during the week. But this was preposterous, even unseemly, for a Miami team.
"I just didn't think we'd establish that much," McGuire said.
Here's something else the Hurricanes established: Miami all but owns its rival from the Panhandle. Both schools have finished among the top three in the country in each of the last three years, and both have campuses that may look like utility plants yet house breathtaking arrays of talent. But theirs has been a lopsided series. The Hurricanes have won three national titles in the '80s, and have beaten the Seminoles in five of their last six meetings. A T-shirt in the Miami campus bookstore lists the Hurricanes' five titles in football and baseball, and then the Seminoles' titles: O, NONE, NOTHING, ZERO, ZILCH.
That fact gnaws at the Seminoles, who vented their frustration by engaging the Hurricanes in a bench-clearing melee as Miami recovered State's last-chance on-side kick in the closing seconds. On this day the Seminoles, with 24 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep chart, were too young and too lacking in composure. They did nearly everything wrong, from their pregame mouthiness—cornerback Terrell Buckley and linebacker Kirk Carruthers calling Craig Erickson "average"—to their generally sloppy play.
Buckley, a true sophomore, has four interceptions this season and is among the nation's leading punt returners. He also plays the outfield on Florida State's baseball team. Thus he fancies himself the reincarnation of Neon Deion Sanders, the Seminoles' All-America cornerback of recent vintage. Buckley aimed a salvo directly at the one person he should have been most wary of, quarterback Erickson, and he paid for it. "He underthrows and he overthrows his receivers," Buckley said. "We watched film, and film does not lie. Heisman, no way." Miami's offense, he added, was not unstoppable. "They can be stopped and contained and embarrassed."
These were not wise comments from the man who would have to cover Miami's trio of Carroll, Hill and Lamar Thomas all afternoon. Meanwhile, normally talkative Miami was nearly silent after a caution from Coach Erickson that a team which had already lost a game—to BYU on Sept. 8 in its season opener—had nothing to gain by loose talk. "It was eerie almost," Sullivan said.
Craig Erickson responded impassively to Buckley's and Carruthers's comments. "They're probably right, I do underthrow and I do overthrow," he said. But there was the sense that the Hurricanes hid something—perhaps maturity—beneath their uncharacteristic quiet.
For some of the afternoon, Buckley and Carruthers backed up their words. After all, Buckley finished with six tackles, while Carruthers had nine. But Erickson was patient, connecting with his light ends and backs for short and medium gains until, with 5:02 left in the first half and Miami ahead 17-0 on two short runs by Conley and a Carlos Huerta field goal, he got Buckley where he wanted him, in single coverage on Thomas, third-and-goal at the Florida State 10-yard line. Erickson audibled, Thomas burst past Buckley up the left sideline, and Erickson lofted a perfect lead pass for his only scoring toss of the day.
Later, Carruthers would only partly retract the Seminoles' criticisms. "He's a winner, I'll give him that," Carruthers said of Erickson. But he would not concede that the Seminoles had been convincingly beaten, pointing to Miami's desultory play in the second and third quarters as they yielded 16 unanswered points.
"We should be Number One," said Carruthers. "We should have got our chance right here.... We were a little intimidated, but we finally realized these guys weren't that good. They didn't knock us on our ass for four quarters, just two."
The Seminoles do have the talent to back up their shrill words, with a roster that includes players like true freshman Marvin Jones, a 225-pound linebacker who runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds and was nicknamed Shade Tree after he flopped down under a willow tree one day after practice. "Couple of years, they're going to call this place Marvinville," he said of his resting place. Pretty soon they may call all of Tallahassee that, because a week after Jones made 20 tackles against Virginia Tech, he had 15 more against Miami, nine of them unassisted.
"He just runs to the football as fast as he can," Dennis Erickson said. "And when he gets there he's in a bad mood."
The problem is that the Seminoles are undisciplined. Said Sullivan of Jones, "It seems like he doesn't care so much about making the play; if the guy he knocks silly has the ball, fine."
That the Seminoles kept it as close as they did in the face of the Hurricanes' dominance was due mainly to senior flanker Lawrence Dawsey, with his circus catches of all descriptions, 13 of them for 160 yards. Dawsey helped make quarterback Brad Johnson look accomplished. The 6'6" starter, who until this season was better known as a guard on the basketball team, completed 26 of 37 passes for 251 yards.
But Dawsey could not compensate for the Seminoles' dismal first half, in which they were penalized six times for 65 yards, penetrated Miami territory only twice, punted on their first five possessions and converted but one of eight third-down situations. Nor could he make up for three turnovers in the game, including strong safety Hurlie Brown's interception of Johnson in the Miami end zone to close out a promising third-quarter drive at the Miami 36. And he could do nothing at all as the Hurricane offense regained command in the final quarter.
"I can't believe the lack of poise we showed early," said coach Bobby Bowden, who was denied his 200th career victory. "We could have won the stinking game. I really thought we could win, and then they drove 80 yards and that pretty much wrapped it up."
The Seminoles scored their 16 unanswered points with a Johnson-to-Dawsey 19-yard touchdown pass with 1:40 left in the first half, Richie Andrews's 32-yard field goal, the only score for either side in the third quarter, and tailback Amp Lee's two-yard sweep with 11:30 left in the game. But the Hurricanes gathered themselves for their final scoring drive. On the sideline, offensive line coach Gregg Smith told a crowd of Hurricane helmets, "If you're going to do anything, you've got to do it right here, and on the ground is how." Across the field, the Florida State defense sensed that the outcome of the game hung on this drive. "In our hearts, we knew if we stopped them we'd win it," Carruthers said. "But they shoved it down our throats."
McGuire hurled his 5'11", 219-pound body across the line nine times during the series, gaining 45 yards. Said Sullivan, "You had to be just crazed. It was just guys fighting guys, a fistfight is what it got down to."
In the process, the unheralded McGuire proved that he and Conley can give the Hurricanes the kind of running threat once posed by former Miami backfield mates Melvin Bratton and Alonzo Highsmith. McGuire is not only fast, but durable; he shook off dehydration and a case of stomach cramps in the second quarter. And in keeping with the new Hurricane image, he is soft-spoken and unassuming, seeming genuinely taken aback by his achievements. "I just wanted to be like Highsmith and Bratton, and go out on those pass routes," he said.
The deciding drive was also a tribute to Miami's entire left side, led by Sullivan. The fifth-year graduate business student, a son of Irish immigrants who plans to return home to Chicago for a career in politics, has started every game in his Miami career. His 40th straight was what Smith called "maybe the finest game he has ever played." Sullivan acknowledged, "Nobody will ever remember an offensive line except for a day like today. So we'll bask in the glow."
When Sullivan wasn't knocking defensive tackle Henry Ostaszewski backward, he was rolling up Carruthers or Jones on a counter. He was so certain he could move Florida State's front on the last drive that he turned toward the coaching staff on the sidelines, gesturing and banging himself in the chest. At first, the sideline staff didn't get it. "They were looking at me like, 'Does he need water, is he hurt, does he need a blow?' " Sullivan said. What he meant was Run to my side again.
"When he knows he's got a guy's number, you believe him," quarterback Erickson said of Sullivan. "And if there are two guys on him, he'll get them both."
The Hurricanes took Sullivan up on his challenge. After an Erickson pass to tight end Rob Chudzinski took the Hurricanes down to the Florida State six-yard line, McGuire ran the ball four straight times. On his final carry of the drive, he banged past Sullivan to make the end zone standing up.
"Finally," Sullivan said, "they got the point."