Take, for instance, the Seminoles' final play, a 34-yard field goal attempt by sophomore Gerry Thomas. His kick had plenty of leg, but no eyes—it floated a foot or so outside the right upright. Except for that failed attempt, Thomas had a fine day, nailing an extra point and three field goals, from 25, 31 and 20 yards, in three tries. "Unfortunately," he said, exhibiting a wisdom beyond his 20 years, "it's the last one they remember."
After the game Buckley told Thomas to go easy on himself. "They scored touchdowns, we got field goals," he said. "Basically, that was the problem." Those field goals were a clear indication of the trouble that the Florida State offense, which had averaged 41.4 points a game before Saturday, had against Miami. The Hurricanes were the first opponents the Seminoles faced this season who could stay with them, stride for stride. Florida State's Bennett and Amp Lee combined for a quiet 130 rushing yards on 27 attempts, with most of those yards coming on draws and delays up the middle. Sweeps against the Miami defense proved to be exercises in futility—Leroy Burrell would have had trouble turning the corner against this Hurricane unit. Five defensive backs run sub-4.5 40s. The three starting linebackers each run better than 4.6—Darrin Smith runs a 4.42. Miami's defensive linemen are as fast as its linebackers, which most of them were before they arrived in Coral Gables and were issued these instructions: 1) Gain weight; 2) don't lose speed.
The Seminoles' lone touchdown of the day was set up not by their high-powered offense but by a couple of guys named Ostaszewski. Late in the first quarter nose-guard Joe stripped Hurricane fullback Stephen McGuire of the ball, at which juncture defensive end Henry—Joe's identical twin and his elder by seven minutes—gathered in the fumble on the Miami 24-yard line. Five plays later fullback Paul Moore barreled over right guard to give Florida State a 10-7 lead.
Before McGuire could begin stewing over his costly turnover, Miami coach Dennis Erickson pulled him aside. "Make it up to your teammates by running even harder," said Erickson. That's a tall order for McGuire, a no-frills brute of a back from the mean streets of Brooklyn's East New York section, who runs hard every time because, as he says, "it's my only style." By the end of the Brawl, McGuire had ground out 142 yards on 22 carries, most of them between the tackles. His helmet looked as though it had been tied to the bumper of a car and dragged down a stretch of bad road.
"I took it upon myself to pick up the slack," said McGuire. "Gino wasn't getting much time to throw." Gino never has in Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium. Two years ago, as a quaking redshirt freshman starting in place of an injured Craig Erickson, Torretta threw an interception on his first pass. For an encore he threw three more to the wrong color jerseys in the first half. The Hurricanes lost 24-10 to the Seminoles that day.
Since that nightmarish outing, Torretta is 12-1 as a starter. While less flashy than his millionaire predecessors at the position—Bernie Kosar, Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh—Torretta has plenty going for him. He has coach Erickson's complex one-back system down cold, and he can air the ball out, the better to hook up with Miami's breathtaking batch of wide receivers, the self-styled Ruthless Posse. And Torretta's play this season has been characterized by the sort of caution that only a loan officer—or a football coach—could love. If he can't find a safe throw, he throws the ball away.
Usually. On Saturday, blanket coverage and a ferocious Florida State pass rush rendered the Ruthless Posse toothless. When Thomas kicked his final field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Seminoles had a 16-7 lead and Miami was in serious trouble. Not only was its passing game in shambles, but also because the Hurricane offensive linemen were being outplayed by Florida State's defensive front, McGuire had to earn much of his yardage by himself. On Miami's first possession of the final quarter, McGuire tore off runs of five, 27 and eight yards, all but single-handedly setting up Carlos Huerta's 45-yard field goal, which brought the Hurricanes to within six points.
The story of how Miami closed that gap is also the story of how Torretta exorcised the demons of 1989 and relegated the Seminoles, yet again, to the role of bridesmaid. It bears a closer look:
First-and-10 on the Miami 42-yard line: Carruthers, who seems to save his best games for the Hurricanes, comes up the middle and rings up his third sack of the afternoon.
Second-and-14: Torretta takes a three-step drop and looks left for tight end Coleman Bell, who, to Torretta's dismay, is tightly covered by cornerback Errol McCorvey. "Usually he's wide open," Torretta said later. Torretta had no choice but to parachute a dangerous 20-yard pass into Bell's outstretched hands. Twenty-one-yard gain.