The Miami Hurricanes may yet run into a clutch kicker this season. Until they do, they will have the inside track in the race for the national championship. For the third straight week Miami's winning streak, which now stands at 23, survived because of the vagaries of the human instep. On Sept. 26, Arizona's Steve McLaughlin barely missed a 51-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a 10-8 win over the Hurricanes, and a week later Florida State's Dan Mowrey missed a 39-yarder with eight seconds to go that would have tied the score at 19-19.
Last Saturday it was Craig Fayak of Penn State who had to endure a cross-examination from the press after Miami beat the Nittany Lions 17-14 in State College, Pa. Fayak, a junior who had converted five of seven field goal tries coming into the game, had his first attempt, a 48-yarder in the opening quarter, blocked. Shortly after pulling his second attempt, a 20-yard chip shot, wide left early in the second quarter, Fayak grabbed his lower back, apparently in pain. How bad was his back? "I'm not making excuses," he said after the game. "Right now we think it's just an inflammation of the nerves." One way or another then, nerves had something to do with Fayak's performance.
Go ahead and wrinkle your nose at the ugliness of the Hurricanes' last three wins. Against Penn State, Miami quarterback Gino Torretta completed only 11 of 31 passes (three were dropped), and over the Hurricanes' last two games he is 31 for 79. Miami coach Dennis Erickson could care less. Since the beginning of last season, he points out, "Gino is 17-0."
Sorry, Washington, Miami is the best team in the country. Miami's win over fifth-ranked Penn State, coming seven days after its victory over then No. 3 Florida State, leaves room for no other conclusion. Has any other team ever defeated tougher foes on successive Saturdays?
Stereotypes took a beating in State College. Lion coach Joe Paterno's altar boys were penalized nine times for 77 yards, while those Miami renegades were flagged only twice for 24. "Their linemen were the best holders I've ever played against," said Hurricane defensive end Kevin Patrick. "[Quarterback John] Sacca called me every dirty name there is. And people in the stands—I'm talking grandmothers—they could curse too. You know what it says on license plates here: 'YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN PENNSYLVANIA'? They need to change those plates."
You could hardly blame the Penn State faithful for acting surly. Three lousy points separated the Nittany Lions from the possibility of winning the national title for the first time since 1986. Incidentally, that last title was sealed with Penn State's 14-10 upset of Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. Would that game inspire the current batch of Nittany Lions? "Actually," said guard John Gerak last Thursday, "I'm sick of hearing about it."
"It's been covered pretty thoroughly this week," said tackle Todd Rucci, somewhat more delicately.
It is not surprising that the current Penn State players feel less than nostalgic about the good old days at their school. Paterno regularly bends their ears with they-were-giants-in-those-days lectures. By now every Lion defensive player knows that defensive tackle Mike Reid, Penn State '70, who went on to star with the Cincinnati Bengals, "played at 250 pounds and was tougher than all of you," and that linebacker Shane Conlan, '87, who's with the Buffalo Bills, "would never miss a practice."
The players take their revenge in subtle ways. During calisthenics on hot August days, Gerak might quip, as Paterno walks by, "I guess Mike Reid would have loved this kind of weather, huh, coach?"
Does Paterno laugh? "Sometimes," said Gerak.