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.