But he came of age Saturday night. His first scoring pass, a 55-yarder to Dawkins at the end of the first quarter that made the score 10-0, came in the face of a heavy blitz. His second one finished the Drive, during which he completed six of eight passes, masterfully blending long and short stuff. And he was intercepted only once.
Before the Drive, the Irish had been outgained by just five yards, 133 to 128. But the Drive quelled Notre Dame's spirit. "I'd say, 'O.K., we've got to stop them on this play,' and they'd get another first down," said Smagala afterward. "It happened over and over, and each time it happened, it would take a little something out of you."
Yet surprisingly few tears could be found in the Notre Dame locker room Saturday night. Perhaps the Irish drew comfort from knowing that if they beat Colorado in the Orange Bowl game and got some help in other bowls, they might still retain their national championship. More likely, they recognized that against a team like Miami, winning becomes only a remote possibility when your most effective offensive weapon is a linebacker—senior Ned Bolcar scored the Irish's only touchdown on a 49-yard interception—and your passing attack makes Oklahoma's look state-of-the-art.
Throughout his team's winning streak, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz got a lot of mileage out of his "grenade" joke. "If the ball had been a hand grenade on some of our passes, none of our receivers would have been injured," he would quip after wins in which the Irish had not thrown impressively—which was weekly. Before taking on the Hurricanes, Notre Dame could afford to laugh: With its devastating ground attack, who needed to throw?
It was that lightning-quick option, which Rice had executed so flawlessly, that Miami bottled up. Unable to turn the corner against the even quicker Hurricanes, the Irish fell behind and reluctantly resorted to their passing game. "They've been forcing the ball down people's throats all year," said safety Brown. "They haven't had to throw, so they didn't have any practice at it."
"We knew they'd eventually have to start passing to catch up," said safety Charles Pharms. "So we just stayed way back and let our front seven take care of the run. They were like Oklahoma. They look great until they get behind."
For all intents and purposes, the Irish aerial attack could have consisted of a single spoken instruction in the huddle from Rice to flanker Raghib (Rocket) Ismail: "Rocket, you go deep, and I'll throw the ball as far as I can." Often, because the other receivers were needed at the line of scrimmage to neutralize Miami's blitzes, Ismail, who was held to one catch for 19 yards, was Rice's sole target, and Rocket drew double and triple coverage. "We should have called more play-action passes," said Holtz afterward. "I don't know why I didn't get to those."
The Irish were equally ineffective when they got into scoring territory. Twice they found themselves inside Miami's 10-yard line. For those efforts, they received three measly points, and that field goal turned out to be a gift. Early in the second quarter fullback Anthony Johnson appeared to fumble on the Hurricane one-yard line. The ball was recovered by Miami, but the officials ruled that Johnson's knee was down before the ball came loose. Replays showed that decision to be in error. "We've got to cash in when we get that close," said Holtz. "That's like getting paid but losing the money."
Last year's game was fraught with overtones of good versus evil—a notion propagated largely by followers of the Irish, who played on Miami's outlaw reputation. A favorite T-shirt in South Bend read CATHOLICS VS. CONVICTS, but the comparison didn't hold much water then—the teams rumbled in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms before the '88 game—and was even less appropriate this season. Though the Hurricanes still jive and jaw ("We're trying to cut back, but it's hard to just stop," says Pharms), they have, for the most part, been well behaved, while Irish players have been fingered in a number of well-publicized incidents, on and off the field.
At Miami, meanwhile, athletic officials have asked players to tone down the pregame woofing that had branded the Hurricanes as troublemakers. Some progress appears to have been made. "Oh no, I wouldn't say we hate them, not at all," said senior defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy before the game. "We're just glad for the opportunity to play Notre Dame."