Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer stood on the field at Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah, late last Saturday night, as a handful of fresh-faced, goggle-eyed fans clamored for a word, an autograph, a shake of the right hand that an hour before had carved up defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Miami, 28-21. Detmer wore a tattered butterfly bandage on his chin, to cover a six-stitch game wound, and a day's growth of blond stubble that appeared to be an attempt to toughen his tender looks. "We played great against a great team," Detmer said. "A great game, great to be a part of it."
A part of it? Maybe you thought the tradition of fine quarterbacks had departed the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, but now comes Detmer, out of San Antonio, slingin' leather and starting Heisman Trophy talk in Provo. On Saturday, Detmer adroitly eluded rushers and gunned the ball from his hip on the dead run to his cutting receivers' waiting palms. He connected on 38 of 54 precision throws for 406 yards into the teeth of the Hurricanes, surpassing by four the completion record against Miami held by another escape artist, Boston College's Doug Flutie. Detmer's numbers were remarkable, but they shone even brighter when compared with those of Miami's own Heisman hopeful, quarterback Craig Erickson, who completed 28 of 52 for 299 yards. "There's no doubt in my mind who's better," said BYU halfback Matt Bellini afterward. Said Erickson, "You just had to listen to the crowd roar. Ty really ignited them tonight."
The record turnout of 66,235 returned the favor by pumping the Cougars sky-high. Detmer shared the spotlight with a supporting cast that included dimeback Ervin Lee, who picked off a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone and broke up Erickson's last deep heave; BYU's offensive and stunting defensive lines, which, by outplaying both Hurricane fronts, bought Detmer time and overcame five Cougar turnovers; Earl Kauffman, who averaged 53.8 yards a punt, nailed field goals of 32 and 29 yards and booted all six of his kickoffs to unreturnable reaches; and seven receivers who, while slower than the Hurricane linebackers, nearly always found the seams in the zone and on the ball.
Miami was also done in by its own arrogance, reflected in a failed fourth-and-one gamble on the 43-yard line—its own 43—midway through the third quarter, which set up the Cougars' clinching touchdown drive'. "They're a class act," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson of the Cougars. "They came out and outplayed us. Ty Detmer is unbelievable. He made some great plays and throws with pressure in his face."
For instance, on all three of his touchdown passes, each of which was worthy of an accompanying chorus from the Tabernacle Choir. Detmer's first scoring throw, a 14-yarder with 12:44 left in the first half that tied the score at 7-7, came after he slipped from the clutches of 6'4", 260-pound defensive end Shane Curry, spun left and loosed a floater, across his body and inches over a defender, to Bellini in the left coffin corner. Detmer pursued Bellini up a runway after the catch, smacking the back of his teammate's helmet and banging him into a concrete wall. "Ty gets crazy on the field," said Bellini, who snagged 10 passes for 111 yards.
Touchdown No. 2 came with 10 seconds to go in the first half, at the end of a one-minute, 38-second fire drill in which Detmer completed all seven of his passes, for 82 yards. He danced around a Hurricane blitz long enough to let wide receiver Andy Boyce find an opening in the right corner for his two-yard toss. That put BYU up 17-14.
And then there was the third TD pass. After the Cougars had stuffed fullback Steve McGuire on that ill-fated fourth-and-one call—"I thought we had some momentum going," said coach Erickson afterward, "but obviously the way it turned out, it wasn't smart"—Detmer led the drive, keeping the Cougar march alive with a nifty fourth-and-one bootleg run for five yards to the Miami 19. Three plays later, on the seven, he faded back to pass. Lineman Russell Maryland and linebacker Jessie Armstead each drew a bead on Detmer's knees. He took their shots, spun free, then rolled right. As he threw, Armstead and three other Hurricanes zeroed in on him. After the throw, frustrated defenders collapsed on the turf like toppled bowling pins and halfback Mike Salido hoisted Detmer's strike in the end zone. Detmer, choosing to go for two points, stared hard at one receiver before suddenly turning to find Boyce all alone for the conversion. With 3:46 remaining in the third quarter, the Cougars were ahead 28-21.
After the game, Detmer smiled and explained his technique in an aw-shucks Texas twang. "I really don't know what's going on," he said. "I'm just running, and if I feel like something's going to happen, I jump back out of there and get away from it. It's like playing in the front yard when you're growing up."
Thus culminated the hype and hoopla of a week that focused attention on two quarterbacks who not only had to win a game but also had to seduce Heisman voters and live up to the reputations of their signal-calling forebears. Erickson, a senior, had purportedly been blessed with all the best attributes of former Hurricane greats Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh. Detmer, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, was the long-awaited heir to Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco.
The two quarterbacks shied away from the Heisman talk. "The way I compete with Craig is by beating their defense," said Detmer. Erickson seemed to be competing for the Nobel Peace Prize. "Ty's a great example to the youth of America, and a tribute to his university," he said. While quarterback Erickson had asked Miami not to ballyhoo him for the Heisman—with half a dozen national TV appearances by the Hurricanes, he could afford that—BYU, nestled in the netherworld of the Mountain time zone, was once again cranking out Trophy Ty-ins. Last year, the school sent each Heisman voter two cardboard ties that detailed Detmer's qualifications; for the Miami game, the Cougar flacks handed out 10,000 cravat-shaped pieces of plastic on which was printed THE OFFICIAL HEISMAN TY. A large rubber band was affixed to each for easy wearing.