Erickson and Detmer first became acquainted during a round of golf at an All-America, antidrug get-together in Phoenix last spring, and discovered that they shared a passion for the outdoors. Erickson, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., doesn't stray far from the saltwater fishing that he loves. He entered the BYU game 8-0 as a starter and was MVP of the 33-25 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama that clinched Miami's 1989 national championship.
While setting records for his coach and father, Sonny, at San Antonio's Southwest High, Detmer took one look at the pass-happy system of BYU and the mountainous landscape near Provo and, like Brigham Young himself 143 years before, knew he had found his destination. The fame of Cougar quarterbacks had dimmed since Bosco, who led BYU to the national title in 1984, departed Provo in '85. BYU coach La Veil Edwards had never met Detmer, and when the skinny freshman arrived on campus in the summer of '87, Edwards was dismayed. "I was expecting John Elway, and what I saw was Pee Wee Herman," he says. But Edwards stayed the course, with fruitful results. After a week of practice, assistant coach Norm Chow happily buttonholed Edwards and said, "We're back in the quarterback business."
Last season, Detmer became BYU's first fulltime sophomore starter at quarterback, racking up an efficiency rating of 175.6, second in NCAA history to McMahon's 176.9 in 1980. He averaged an NCAA-record 17.2 yards per completion and set a record for all bowl games by attacking Penn State for 576 yards passing, while calling audibles 60% of the time, in the Cougars' 50-39 Holiday Bowl defeat. Though his arm is not overpowering, his accuracy is uncanny. Edwards figures that if Detmer throws 60 times, he'll make only two or three bad reads. "If an offensive guard misses a block on a 30-yard pass play, Ty knows," says Bellini. "It's amazing. We have phones on the sidelines, and you can hear them ringing on the field if you make a mistake. Before you pick them up, Ty can tell you what you did wrong."
Even without the Heisman factor, a high degree of hype always accompanies the Hurricanes, whose arrival in Utah with the No. 1 ranking made this the biggest game ever played in the state. (BYU students were reportedly scalping their $3.50 seats for as much as $100 each.) As is its custom, Miami heightened the commotion by preceding its smash-mouth brand of football with its trash-mouth brand of intimidation. Early in the week, after Miami safety Darryl Williams disparaged Detmer ("He's a long way from great"), coach Erickson told his troops to wise up and shut up. They just turned the volume up. The Hurricane linemen promised to "rattle" Detmer and "get in his face and rough him up."
Detmer had faith that his cooler head would prevail. "I know they're trying to get me out of the game plan," he said last Thursday. "I've got to just stay sharp and not play an individual game." But for all his playfulness (he was recently kicked out of a water park for dragging the distaff lifeguards down the slides with him), his near-Mormon asceticism (a Methodist, he does drink iced tea, but only when home in Texas) and his gangly physique ("He looks like a dork," says cornerback Brian Mitchell), Detmer often has a hard time not behaving like a cranked-up linebacker. In winning at the University of Texas-El Paso 30-10 in the season opener on Sept. 1, Detmer was flagged for barking at an official and once tried to get a Miner lineman's mind right by rearranging his face mask. The following Monday, four BYU coaches summoned Detmer to their offices for counsel.
He also got some advice from his dad, to whom he had expressed contrition after throwing two interceptions against UTEP. Detmer seemed to have forgotten that he had also completed 33 of 46 passes for 387 yards. Recalls Sonny, "I told him, 'You don't need to be so hard on yourself. If the best game in the nation's not good enough for you, you ought to try another sport. Have some fun.' "
Last Saturday night, Detmer clearly was pleased with his performance. He may even have had some fun as he ransacked Miami's zone defense, scanning the field, looking off defenders and then watching as his receivers filled the holes in the zone. His throws sometimes arrived ugly—"Not that they're coming sideways, but they wobble a little," he says—but they arrived. Though Detmer's longest completion against Miami was a 29-yarder, he surpassed the 300-yard mark for a 14th straight regular-season game, an NCAA record. "You give him an inch," said Miami safety Hurlie Brown, "he takes it."
For all Detmer's wizardry, however, the Cougar offense went the entire fourth quarter with only one first down, and Miami had its chances to win. One Hurricane drive reached the BYU 15, but Erickson fumbled the snap and Cougar linebacker Alema Fitisemanu recovered. A second reached the 13, and Erickson fired a dart to flanker Kevin Williams under the goalpost. In stepped Lee. "He [Williams] bobbled it in the air, and I just grabbed it," said Lee. The last drive reached the 25. On fourth-and-four, Erickson read man-for-man coverage, Lee against speedy Randal (Thrill) Hill. Hill streaked toward the end zone. "All I could do is turn and run with him," said Lee. He did, every step of the way, and swatted down Miami's final hope.
"A few words to describe BYU's defense," said Erickson, a victim of three sacks and many hard knocks, "are 'over and above.' "
The Hurricanes' annual national title quest is by no means quashed; they will have ample opportunity to return to the hunt against Florida State (Oct. 6) and Notre Dame (Oct. 20). The Cougars, whose more modest aspirations include retaining the WAC title they have won 13 times since the league was founded in 1962, had wanted to gain respect against Miami. They got much more. "We've never beaten a Number One team before," said Edwards. "Except we did beat ourselves in practice a couple of times in '84."