Miami Rings Florida's Bell and Trounces Gators, 31-4

Times Staff Writer

Miami gave Florida something to think about for the next five years, when this bitter rivalry is resumed. Like, how smart the Gators were to break it off. Replacing the Hurricanes with Montana State on next year's schedule, with the stated intention of developing a national reputation, could be the better part of valor, indeed.

Certainly, Kerwin Bell is not going to miss Miami, which beat his team, 31-4. This is his last season with Florida, but he couldn't get this game over quick enough and wouldn't talk about it when it was over (except for a prepared statement). Bell, who came into this game with a well-oiled Heisman Trophy campaign ("For Whom the Bell Tolls" posters have been in the mail), was rung often enough to sound like a carillon Saturday.

And it would only have gotten worse. While Florida is going to miss Bell these next few seasons, Miami is evidently still strong enough that its lineups no longer matter. Even without Vinny Testaverde or Jerome Brown or jungle fatigues, the Hurricanes can still blow up a storm.

Example: In his first start in the Orange Bowl, a sophomore by the name of Steve Walsh (1-of-2, 5 yards, career) easily outpassed his better-known rival. Walsh, who will not compare favorably with his predecessors--Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Testaverde have NFL contracts worth $20 million--nevertheless looked pretty good against Bell.

With vastly better protection, Walsh completed 17 of 27 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown to Brian Blades. Bell, in his first TV appearance in three seasons, completed 15 of 33 for no touchdowns, had 3 passes intercepted, was sacked 5 times and dropped 3 snaps from center.

The Hurricanes, who came within a play or two of beating Penn State for the national championship last season, have lost players and continue to lose them weekly (defensive tackle Dan Sileo was declared ineligible the day before the opener). Yet, the program defies dismantling. Never mind Testaverde's replacement; Sileo's successor, Jimmie Jones, made seven tackles and got to know Bell with a violent intimacy.

Even the lingering publicity from last season, when Miami set an unofficial record for police actions and bad taste at bowl functions, fails to slow Miami. Before the game, Coach Jimmy Johnson mused on the bitter aftertaste of an 11-1 season, "That felt like we went 5-6 instead." Since most of his public efforts have gone to correct Miami's outlaw image, implementing dress codes, Johnson has wondered if his priorities have become misplaced.

"We had to go overboard to change our image," he said. "And so if it takes wearing suits and ties and saying what we really don't mean, well, that's what we have to do. But maybe I overlooked what I was hired to do, coach football."

Evidently not. Miami can apparently play in formal wear if it wants. Earlier in the week, running back Melvin Bratton said, "We're not going to start that 'we're on a mission' stuff again. It's more like we're on tour." Anyway, he said, "The difference between the buildup this year and last year is easy to figure. Jerome Brown's not around."

Well, the loquacious Brown, who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, was in fact on the sideline. And his whirling towel may have been inspirational on and off the field. For as the game wore on, it became apparent that the Hurricanes were reverting to their old selves, mean and nasty and, in the locker room, talkative.

Here's Bennie Blades, whose third-quarter interception began a Florida collapse (Miami scored two field goals and a touchdown in the first eight minutes of the second half): "Here's a team that cuts us out of the schedule; we've got to feel they're wimping out on us. Man, I just hate Gators all around."

Brown would approve. In fact, the Gators aren't really wimping out. Because of their Southeastern Conference schedule, which will go from six games a year to seven next season, the Gators have trouble getting national attention. The rivalry game with Miami, in addition to their league schedule, keeps them almost entirely in-state. Nevertheless, their decision to leave the Orange Bowl, and remove the only game that sells it out, is not popular in these parts.

"I tell you, in the third quarter, well, I don't remember Bell quitting before. You could see it in his eyes." Blades understands, even sympathizes. Poor Bell had no one to throw the ball to. "I wouldn't say he was off, any time you come to a game with inexperienced receivers, who are easily intimidated. . . . and you could see the fright in their eyes.

"That was our plan to jack them up, intimidate them. Do it on the first play and say, 'Hey, it's like this all day long.' I did it to Stacey Simmons and told him, 'Come back soon, man, more where this come from.' I could see the fright in his eyes."

Certainly there was intimidation on the line. Dan Stubbs, who had 17 sacks last season, had three more. Said Florida tackle David Williams, who had to block Stubbs all afternoon: "You don't get your sets, he'll beat you every play."

The offensive linemen may have been hurting, but the effect was most apparent on Bell, who suffered a slight shoulder separation. "He was getting up slower and slower," said Miami linebacker George Mira Jr. "He was taking shots, getting hit from all over the place. It's funny, they said they were going after our young quarterback; we get their experienced one."

Walsh, meanwhile, avoided almost all misfortune. To be sure, his passing does not rival Testaverde's. Walsh dumped a lot of short passes, and most of the big passing plays were made on runs; Michael Irvin took a little toss underneath and danced for 63 yards.

"But I just wanted not to force it," Walsh said. "I knew I couldn't go out and force things, just take what you get and try not to make big mistakes."

In fact, the only mistakes were a halfback pass by Melvin Bratton that was easily intercepted and two long snaps to the punter. Poor Willis Peguese twice lofted the ball into the end zone for Florida safeties. "I'd like to thank their center for helping us avoid a shutout," Florida Coach Galen Hall said.

Given the level of Miami's play, he can also thank his athletic director he doesn't have to play Miami for five years.

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