The Miami Hurricanes had inspired a lot of rethinking the past two weeks, just squeaking past the likes of Virginia Tech and Toledo, apparently rendered fat and lazy by a six-game serving of designated losers. Even though appointed to the Orange Bowl and a national championship game with Oklahoma, second-ranked Miami was suffering through a span of withering doubt.
And to top it off, here came Notre Dame, its little green buttons suggesting a vengeful purpose and its 8-2 record against a world-class schedule indicating a capacity for greatness, or at least an upset. The world, smirking, was poised to witness a great fall.
It was Notre Dame that took a tumble, a virtual free-fall through space. The Hurricanes, who evidently needed some kind of wake-up call this season, beat the Irish even more thoroughly than the 24-0 score would have you believe. In fact, this game was no more competitive than a ritual sacrifice. And less fun to watch.
The Irish showed little offense (169 total yards, a point total a bit off their 33-point average) and couldn't stand up to Miami's offensive line play.
As for Tim Brown, who has restored all-purpose yardage to the football vocabulary, he was practically purposeless. Normally he gains 175 yards, one way or another. Saturday, before 76,640 fans in the Orange Bowl, he accounted for just 95. And if he had dropped any more passes--three is the unofficial count--the Heisman folks might think twice before they hand the trophy over. They say it's even heavier than a football.
But Notre Dame's Heisman lock wasn't the only one who let this game slip away. Notre Dame's offensive line couldn't protect quarterback Tony Rice or make holes for its vaunted ground game. There were enough Miami players in Notre Dame's backfield, often enough, for a card game. Rice was sacked five times and three of his passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage. Rice, considering the rebounds, had reason to believe he was playing handball out there.
And no Notre Dame back--together they account for 80% of the team's offense--gained more than 28 yards. A memorable, and almost typical, play occurred in the second quarter when Miami linebacker George Mira Jr. met Notre Dame's Tony Brooks at the line of scrimmage and simply stood him straight up. It happened all day.
Miami (10-0), meanwhile, rolled nearly unimpeded, gaining 417 yards, evenly split passing and rushing. It was not unlike their 1985 thrashing of the Irish, when the Hurricanes scored on every drive and created a reputation for pouring it on. The only difference was that Miami this year kept handing the ball over, surprising in that the Hurricanes had only nine giveaways all season.
Quarterback Steve Walsh, who had thrown just four interceptions all season, threw one on his team's first drive, with Miami just 43 yards away from the end zone. On the next possession, fullback Melvin Bratton, who would later score two touchdowns, let the ball fly on the Notre Dame one-yard line. To begin the second half, Walsh fumbled a snap on the Irish 11. Walsh, who enjoyed what seemed like whole minutes in the pocket, would atone with 196 yards passing but he mourned the mistakes nonetheless.
"It could easily have been 35-0," the sophomore quarterback said. That's a bunch. Was Miami really that much better than Notre Dame? "Today we were."
Miami didn't even need to punt until the fourth quarter (it made a first down on a fake punt in the second quarter), by which time the game was pretty well put away. Notre Dame had shown no potency and became less and less dangerous as it was forced into a passing game, something it doesn't have against a pass rush like Miami's. Also, by then, the idea that Tim Brown was going to break anything had become absurd.
Part of his ineffectiveness was due to the game-plan. Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson used placekicker Greg Cox on kickoffs and employed a reverse accuracy; Cox was directed to kick away from him, allowing the Irish decent placement but zero touchdowns on Brown's whirlwind returns--he has returned three for scores in his career. On punts, what few there were, Jeff Feagles changed it up so Brown wouldn't know where to look.
But, of course, Miami players deserved some credit, especially for Brown's drops. Miami cornerback Bennie Blades, who had only two fewer catches than Brown (3 for 37 yards), said, "He was looking to get hit all day. It was a simple lack of concentration." Blades said the tone was set in the first quarter when linebacker Rod Carter "put a hit on him."
Mira, who seemed to be in on every play, noticed it more in the second quarter, when he said Brown simply began dropping to the ground once he caught the ball. "Of course, as a defender," he said, "that's just what you want to see. He didn't want to challenge us any more."
Brown returned three kickoffs for 42 yards, three punts for 14 yards--including a two-yard loss and a fair catch--caught three passes for 37 yards and rushed once for two yards. This was paltry vindication. If he felt any special animosity from the 1985 drubbing, he was nevertheless outdone when it came to football psychology, undone by his own words.
"He said some things in the Chicago papers about our secondary," Blades said. "How we were just average. It riled us. When I saw him on the field, I told him he was a heckuva player and a few other choice words. He got big eyes."
Brown discounted Miami's woofing, as traditional as a halftime show by now. "That's the way they play the game," he said. "They feel they can taunt you and talk about your mama. I know it doesn't bother me."
Still, he was unable to explain the dropped passes or, really, much of anything that happened. As for his Heisman chances, which had seemed assured until this performance in the final week of balloting, he said, "If playing one bad game a year can take you out of it, so be it."
To be fair, Notre Dame is not hailed as a one-man team. It was group failure, induced, Mira contended, by Miami's rough style of play. "A team can only take so much hitting," he said. "By the fourth quarter, they were dying. Their center (Chuck Lanza) walked by me and said, 'Man, it's hot down here.' " Hurricanes, of course, are used to worse weather than that.
Miami must now answer two more wake-up calls, closing out the regular season here with South Carolina next Saturday and then playing the big one, also here, with top-ranked Oklahoma. It should be wide-eyed. Notre Dame limps on to face Texas A&M; in the Cotton Bowl, where, presumably, they are better matched and where the concept of all-purpose yardage is regarded with somewhat more awe than it is here.