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Vinny Is Viceless as Miami Defeats Oklahoma, 28-16

Times Staff Writer

Call it Miami Twice, but only because that’s all these two teams have played the last couple of years. One gets the feeling, watching Miami’s Vinny Testaverde perform his annual interment of annually favored Oklahoma that the number in this little action show will only rise as they continue to meet.

Miami Thrice? Where do you go from there?

Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, after the Hurricanes defeated his top-rated Sooners, 28-16, Saturday, hopes it stops right here. Enough is enough. Asked if he hoped to meet Miami in the postseason Orange Bowl, Switzer said: “No, I don’t want to play them again. I never want to play them.”

This is prudent. Nothing good comes of playing Miami. Saturday’s score in the Orange Bowl came a year after the Hurricanes’ surprising defeat of the Sooners at Norman, Okla. That lone defeat did not prevent Oklahoma from winning the national championship. But that was only because Miami was not otherwise perfect.

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But this season becomes a walk along Miami Beach for the Hurricanes. Their schedule now descends to the likes of Northern Illinois and East Carolina. Which gives us all reason to believe that the national championship has been decided, four victories into the season.

Oklahoma, which had appeared so devastating in its two previous victories (combined score: 101-3), now plays for runner-up status, with the very real and equally horrifying possibility of meeting Miami again in the Orange Bowl for yet another Game of the Century this season. If Switzer is not eager, his players are.

“See you in the Orange Bowl,” Oklahoma safety Sonny Brown told Miami wide receiver Michael Irvin. Irvin, who had caught two of four touchdown passes thrown by Testaverde, was admittedly puzzled by the defender’s happy anticipation.

“I’m not saying we’d beat them three weeks in a row,” Irvin said, “but we sure beat them today.”

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As in the past, as in almost every game in which Oklahoma is upset, it was the forward pass that beat the Sooners. Saturday, Testaverde improved considerably on his upset numbers of last season. In as close as a quarterback can come to perfection, Testaverde completed 21 of 28 passes for 261 yards and 4 touchdowns. In a remarkable stretch, the senior completed 14 consecutive passes.

In the deciding third quarter, when the Hurricanes scored three touchdowns, Testaverde was 9 of 9 for 129 yards. “He had that great third quarter,” Oklahoma linebacker Paul Migliazzo admitted. “Fourteen in a row, kind of hard to get anything together.”

In truth, Miami Twice was strictly a starring vehicle for Testaverde, presumably anointed by a national television audience as the best college football player. Certainly he overshadowed his on-field competition, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth. The Boz did have a game-high 14 tackles, but he hardly controlled the game the way Testaverde did.

Also, the outspoken Boz besmirched his reputation by refusing to talk to the press. There are upsets and then there are upsets.

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You would do a disservice to the Miami defense, which stuffed the wishbone down Oklahoma’s throat, to credit the upset entirely to Testaverde. But it was hard to find another topic of discussion immediately after the game.

Of Testaverde, Miami coach Jimmy Johnson said: “He’s a complete player, a complete player in that he controls the game with his mind. He doesn’t just perform--he sets the formations, reads the defense, sets 11 players in motion. And then he plays brilliantly.”

Said Switzer: “Testaverde is the best quarterback we’ve played against. His understanding of the game, his ability to scramble, he’s just a guy who makes things happen.”

Testaverde is an unlikely hero on this team, a band of renegades who regularly engage authorities in police action of one kind or another. In the week before this game, the Hurricanes drew 14 squad cars to a campus disturbance and were involved in illegal access to a telephone credit card. Johnson, perhaps not especially meaning these extracurricular activities, said it was pretty much a week as usual. Given other incidents, it was, it was.

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And here is Testaverde, who says he’s tasted beer four or five times, just to blend in with the guys. He certainly doesn’t like it. For goodness sakes, this BMOC used to tool around on a bicycle, until it was stolen. Now he walks.

Saturday, before 71,451 wildly cheering fans, he flew. His passing ability has been documented. His short throws to the tight ends and backs over the middle--16 of his completions were to them--and his long-distance tosses to Irvin and Brett Perriman established the accuracy of an arm that has thrown for 985 yards so far this season.

But then there was his running. In the second quarter, in setting up his touchdown throw to tight end Alfredo Roberts, Testaverde orchestrated a marvelous chase scene. He scrambled right, returned to midfield, did a loop-the-loop, then scrambled left for a 10-yard gain, casually adjusting his shoulder pads as he went downfield.

So what else can he do? What else does he have to?

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Testaverde, besides being blessed with ability, also has the benefit of a nice offensive line, which gave him more than enough time to set up his receivers. His linemen claim it was easier to protect him than they thought it would be. The Oklahoma team that led the nation in pass defense last season was remarkably easy to keep off the passer.

Said Miami center Gregg Rakoczy: “Their heads were down, they were breathing heavy. When we saw them gasping for air, that really got us up.”

Whether it was a matter of conditioning, or that nobody should be expected to chase Testaverde from sideline to sideline, is hard to tell. But Oklahoma defensive tackle Richard Reed admitted that the failure to nail Testaverde was critical. “At least a couple of sacks, that was the plan,” he said sadly.

Because even Testaverde had to admit, if you leave him upright, you’re in trouble. “When they hold the defensive line out like that,” he said, “with the passing team we are, you’re gonna be in trouble.”

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But that wasn’t Oklahoma’s only trouble. The Sooners had gained 928 yards in victories over UCLA and Minnesota, and yet Miami held that precious wishbone offense to a total of 276 yards, just 186 rushing. That Oklahoma, with the unpredictable arm of quarterback Jamelle Holieway, had to throw 13 passes indicates their level of desperation.

Miami did what no other team has done, which is to cover each of the eligible carriers as they skirt the ends. The inside game of fullback Lydell Carr, pounding over center, was entirely negated; Oklahoma fullbacks gained a total of 15 yards. Holieway and Spencer Tillman were almost always met at the line of scrimmage as they turned corners.

Miami All-American Jerome Brown said: “If you have a team that runs, like Oklahoma, the defensive line is cranking every play. You stop the option on first down, you got it made.” Often enough, the Hurricanes did just that.

The Sooners were also bothered by uncharacteristic mistakes. Although theirs is a high-risk offense, with pitchouts aplenty, the Sooners had fumbled just twice going into the game.

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But they completely fell apart in the disastrous third quarter. After Testaverde drove Miami to a 14-3 lead on its first possession of the second half, Anthony Stafford fumbled the kickoff, and Miami was back in business just 15 yards away from a touchdown. Testaverde covered the last five on a pass to Irvin to make it 21-3, all in 44 seconds.

Oklahoma managed a touchdown in that quarter, an unlikely scoring pass from Holieway to Keith Jackson over the middle. That went for 54 yards, with Jackson, a true Sooner, taunting his defender the final 10.

The fourth quarter had to be painful for Oklahoma, although it did manage a Stafford touchdown run near the end. There was a bench-clearing brawl of undetermined origin; there was Miami’s first team driving for a score even as time run out, and there was some highly personalized cheering. Bosworth came in for his share--"Bye-bye Bozo, we hate to see you go.” It seemed that much of the crowd remained just to blaspheme his abilities as he left the field, his rainbow haircut magnificent in the late-afternoon gloom.

So ended the most anticipated game of the young season, with outspoken Oklahoma stilled by Miami once more. As the young Sooners silently walked to their bus, the Hurricanes were squabbling over the spoils. Irvin was particularly upset. He was the intended receiver, and wide open in the end zone, when Alfredo Roberts jumped high to take the touchdown for himself.

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“Rob me,” Irvin muttered. “I told him something in no uncertain terms, too.”

So it’s come to that, the players still hungry after all this. It does not bode well for the rest of the college football-playing world.


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