The Miami Hurricanes seem to have gotten this college football business down to a science. They use a simple formula: If you wear the wrong colors, the 'Canes hate you and the horse you rode in on. They don't mind if you hate them back. In fact, they encourage it. Then they go and get your hopes up by appearing to struggle against the likes of Toledo and Virginia Tech. Then they play you at their place, the Orange Bowl, and beat your brains in.
Saturday's hostile takeover involved Notre Dame, which had gone 8-2 through a killer schedule under wonderworker Lou Holtz. The Fighting Irish were looking to spoil undefeated and unconcerned Miami's hopes for another shot at the national title, against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl game on Jan. 1. There was also the matter of a 58-7 tattoo the Hurricanes put on Notre Dame two years ago. That debacle was Gerry Faust's last game as Irish coach. The 'Canes had been tried and convicted of running up the score in that one. And we all know that what goes around comes around. Well, sooner or later it does.
In this case, it's going to be later. Miami went out and viced, sliced, diced and iced Notre Dame 24-0. With a little more concentration and stickum, it could have been 50-0. Or worse. "But that would have been a sin," said Hurricane wide receiver Michael Irvin. Miami lost three fumbles in Irish territory, twice in the shadow of the Notre Dame goalposts. But the 'Canes' defense surrendered a mere 169 total yards. Notre Dame was never in it.
"We knew after the first series that they couldn't play with us," said Miami defensive end Daniel Stubbs, who, along with linebacker George Mira Jr. (17 tackles) and assorted accomplices, had pounded the Irish backfield. Notre Dame had come in with revenge on its mind. It left with its offense a ruin. "Their offensive line was big and strong, but Florida State's is better at pass protection," said Stubbs. "And don't even mention Oklahoma's. South Carolina [which Miami plays Saturday] will be a bigger threat than Notre Dame was."
The Irish arrived at the Orange Bowl averaging 269 yards rushing per game. On their first series, fullback Anthony Johnson burst between the tackles—supposedly Miami's soft spot—for 12 yards. This turned out to be Notre Dame's offensive highlight for the game. Johnson was tackled by senior safety Bennie Blades, who slammed Johnson down and then offered some sage advice. "I told him, 'Look here, punk, you're in my backyard now, and you have to answer to us,' " said Blades. The Irish ended up rushing for only 82 yards. "Figuratively speaking," said Blades, "we did what we are paid to do."
Miami didn't even have the decency to provide cause for moral outrage. Not on the scoreboard, anyway. The 24-0 final didn't quite make the game seem like a rout. But.... " Oklahoma has a more precise wishbone than Notre Dame," said Blades. "This was easy."
Earlier in the week, Holtz had said that Notre Dame's 21-20 loss to Penn State the previous Saturday had been "as disappointing as any I've ever been associated with." Now, perhaps, he has another opinion. Better to die a heroic death than to be dominated, humiliated and then pointed at on the way out of town. "They're as talented as any team I've seen," said a somber Holtz after the Hurricanes hit. "On a given day, they're probably the best team in the country. We got beat by a better football team." He had forsworn the revenge motive before the game. "You can't get ahead of someone if you're trying to get even with them," he had said, and, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord." But the look on Holtz's face during the postgame interview indicated that perhaps he would have the good fathers check with the Lord about that vengeance clause in years to come.
Holtz had been working around some deficiencies in his offense all season. The Irish lost starting quarterback Terry Andrysiak with a broken collarbone in the fourth game of the season, and had averaged just 133 passing yards per game coming into Miami. But his defense had been solid. "Lou's an offensive coach smart enough to hire a defensive one [ Foge Fazio]," says Gil Brandt, chief scout of the Dallas Cowboys. Even Holtz had said, "I know greatness starts with a dominating defense." Miami coach Jimmy Johnson couldn't argue with that. "I don't look at my team as one that peaks," he said. "Great defensive teams don't have to."
The Hurricanes made Tim Brown, the horse the Irish rode in on, look like an ordinary football player, holding him to a total of 95 yards' worth of receptions, rushes and kick returns. He had been averaging 175 yards a game in total offense and, with a Dec. 4 deadline for Heisman Trophy ballots, was considered the front-runner for the prize—until Saturday. Notre Dame's open-field flash learned that against Miami's defense there simply is no open field. Somebody's always there with a finger in your face or a helmet in your sternum. Brown was shut down from the opening kickoff, when defensive end Randy Bethel tried to plant him under the 20-yard line after a mere 12-yard return.
It only got worse for Brown, who dropped three passes while being shadowed and lectured to by cornerback Bubba McDowell and safety Darrell Fullington. "By the third quarter, I could see Brown had folded up his tent for the day," said Blades. By the end of the game, Brown was reduced to tongue-wagging with Miami's secondary. He couldn't win that contest, either.