Nonetheless Medearis and Miami have discovered that there can be too much of a bad thing. Even before Medearis tore up his knee in the Arizona game and was lost for the season, this year's Hurricanes had been shaken by the death of two former players—Shane Curry in a shooting and Jerome Brown in a car accident—who had gone on to the NFL; by a scandal involving 40 current and former players who filled out fraudulent financial-aid applications (SI, Aug. 31, 1992); and, finally, by an act of God.
While the Miami campus in Coral Gables is 20 miles north of Homestead, where on Aug. 24 Hurricane Andrew wrought its worst destruction, the storm continues to affect the Hurricanes. The houses of Erickson and four of his assistants were severely damaged. On Aug. 27 Joe Zagacki, who does color commentary on Hurricane radio broadcasts, was ferrying relief supplies to migrant workers when his plane crashed, killing both pilots. Three weeks later Zagacki was back on the radio, with two metal plates in his face and two more in his right leg. "I'm not sure people realize what we've been through," says Erickson.
With water and electricity unavailable on campus after the storm, the Hurricanes bivouacked in Vero Beach, where they practiced at Dodgertown for 10 days. They beat Iowa 24-7 on Sept. 5 in Iowa City and then returned to Coral Gables. After beating Florida A&M, a I-AA team for which Miami prepared listlessly, the Hurricanes prepared for Arizona—sort of. None of the Hurricanes deny looking past the Wildcats. Miami salvaged the win only because Arizona kicker Steve McLaughlin missed a 51-yard field goal attempt wide (guess which direction) on the final play.
That near debacle left no doubt that the Hurricanes' weak link was their offensive line. Miami backs totaled two yards on the ground against the Wildcats, and Hurricane quarterback Gino Torretta—"Precious," to his mother, Connie—was treated as anything but. He was sacked twice and hit after releasing the ball on numerous other plays.
This major offensive crisis began in the summer with the news that starting strong tackle Mario Cristobal, who had knee surgery in March, was not recovering as quickly as had been expected. Then on the first day of full-pads practice, starting strong guard Brad Shirey broke his right leg. Cristobal was replaced by Russian-born Zev Lumelski, whose chief talent may be his ability to shout "Look out!" at his quarterback in four languages.
The hog juggling had only just begun. Shirey's backup, redshirt freshman Alan Symonette, had a rough game against Iowa, so line coach Gregg Smith replaced him with starting weak tackle Kipp Vickers. But who would replace Vickers? Recalling that second-team tight end Carlos Etheredge had played some tackle as a freshman in high school, the coaches pressed him into service against A&M.
During the week after Arizona, Smith was all over them, and he wasn't alone. The linemen got all manner of unsolicited advice from their teammates. Says fullback Stephen McGuire, "Guys were telling them, 'You all better get your——together and get nasty out there.' "
"We were pretty cranky," recalls Cristobal, who made his first start of the season against the Seminoles. "There were a lot of fights in practice."
Though the line looked better than it had against Arizona, the best that can be said of its performance on Saturday is that it didn't lose the game. The pass protection was good—Precious, who threw 11 straight incompletions at one stretch but had time to throw touchdown passes of 29 and 33 yards—was sacked only once. The run blocking, on the other hand, was abominable. Miami backs eked out only 65 rushing yards on 28 carries.
Yet Miami's offense was a model of efficiency compared with Florida State's. After Tamarick Vanover, a dazzling freshman wideout, took the opening kick-off 94 yards without being touched, the Seminoles could muster only three Mowrey field goals. The Hurricanes boast the nation's sternest defense, and on this day that unit was on a mission. Erickson asked Medearis—who had knee surgery six days earlier—to hobble on crutches into the locker room and deliver a pregame speech. It brought tears to the eyes of many of his teammates. Especially moved was Kevin Patrick, who replaced Medearis at right end and accounted for three of Miami's seven sacks of Seminole quarterback Charlie Ward.