At last, Lou Holtz has a real reason to whine about his Notre Dame team.
In the course of an evening, Notre Dame (11-1) bid farewell to its No. 1 ranking, its 23-game winning streak (the nation’s longest), its running game, its chances of another Heisman Trophy photo shoot and, maybe, just maybe, its crack at a second consecutive national championship.
As usual, the seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes (10-1) and the Orange Bowl are to blame. Five times the Irish have traveled to the 51-year-old stadium this decade and five times have departed as losers, courtesy of the Hurricanes--who have won their last 32 home games.
The latest defeat, a 27-10 affair, came when Notre Dame and quarterback Tony Rice could least afford it--at regular season’s end, on national television, in front of the voters who decide rankings and statuette recipients. And if you’re counting, the Irish have scored a grand total of two touchdowns against Miami here during the ‘80s.
“This one is going to haunt us the rest of our lives,” said Ned Bolcar, Notre Dame linebacker and team captain. “I hate this damn place.”
Strange thing is, the Irish return next month to begin preparations for their bowl game against undefeated Colorado. It was to be the undisputed national championship event, the game between No. 1 and No. 2. Now--who knows?
Suddenly the marquee is shared by unbeaten Alabama, once-beaten Michigan and, by virtue of Saturday’s victory, Miami. It wasn’t exactly what Notre Dame had in mind when the charter plane left here Saturday night.
“The only thing I can say is they outplayed us,” linebacker Chris Zorich said. “Outplayed us in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter.”
But especially in the third quarter, when an Orange Bowl crowd of 81,634, the largest in its history, witnessed a rarity: a 118-yard scoring drive.
It began at the Miami 20 with a full quarter to be played and the Hurricanes ahead, 17-10. It ended almost 11 minutes (hours, if you were on the Irish defense) later, with Hurricane wide receiver Dale Dawkins cradling his second touchdown catch of the night from Craig Erickson.
It took 22 plays, three of which, it turned out, decided the game.
Play No. 1: On fourth-and-one from the Miami 39-yard line, the Hurricanes went for the first down. Fullback Stephen McGuire squeezed two yards out of his run. Moments later, a 15-yard dead ball personal foul was called against Miami, making it first-and-25 from the 26.
Play No. 2: With those 25 yards to go, Erickson dropped back to pass. The ball was knocked from his hands, apparently into Irish defensive end Devon McDonald’s waiting arms. But McDonald fumbled the fumble, allowing Miami to recover the ball 23 more yards behind the Hurricane line of scrimmage.
Play No. 3: One failed run after McDonald’s costly bobble, Miami was faced with an improbable third-and-44 from its own seven. Erickson settled into the pocket and found wide receiver Randal Hill open for a 44-yard gain.
And that was that. The Hurricanes converted four more third-down plays on the 10:47 drive, including Erickson’s touchdown pass to Dawkins. Notre Dame never recovered.
“Killed us,” Bolcar said. “They go up 14 points and that’s history.”
Hill’s catch, of course, is the one located closest to the Irish toe tag. Worse yet, he didn’t even know the down and distance. “I thought it was third-and-25, something like that,” he said. “I didn’t know where the first-down marker was. I just knew we had to go long.”
All game long Hill had told Erickson that the Notre Dame cornerbacks could be beaten on the bomb. They backpedaled toward the sidelines as soon as the ball was snapped, noted Hill.
“And that opens up a natural lane,” he said happily.
Hill ran past cornerback Stan Smagala, and then past free safety Pat Terrell.
“Blame it on lack of communication,” Terrell said. “I guess I should have been deep.”
Said Bolcar: “Their offensive coordinator, he knew what the hell he was doing.”
Last year about this time, Terrell was batting down a potential game-winning pass from quarterback Steve Walsh in the waning seconds to preserve a 31-30 Irish lead at Notre Dame Stadium. The loss cost Miami its chance at a second consecutive championship, a fact not easily ignored.
For instance, Dawkins wore a Notre Dame cap the entire summer, just to remind him to work harder. And as kickoff approached Saturday, a telegram was received by Miami officials. It was from former coach Jimmy Johnson, who reminded the Hurricanes of an earlier request, mainly, to avenge the loss of 1988.
“The greatest win I’ve ever been associated with,” Miami Coach Dennis Erickson said.
Erickson also went on to say that the crippling third-quarter drive “was the longest drive I’ve ever been associated with.”
Erickson, who was dunked after the game by his players, had reason to be disoriented. By his own admission, it was the biggest game of his career, an item not lost on Miami fans, who were spoiled by Johnson’s tenure.
“Do I feel relieved?” he asked. “About 3,000 pounds off my back.”
All of which was probably transferred to the slight shoulders of Holtz, who had warned America about Notre Dame’s shortcomings. The problem was, America didn’t believe him. And rightly so.
A week earlier, they had chewed up Joe Paterno’s Penn State team. Paterno later compared Notre Dame’s backfield to the legendary Four Horsemen. And he called Irish fullback Anthony Johnson the best in the country.
Well, Miami knocked the horsemen off their saddles. Notre Dame had averaged 301 rushing yards entering the game. It left with 178 yards to its credit.
Rice, the late great Heisman hopeful, completed only seven of 15 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. And the dangerous Raghib (The Rocket) Ismail was no factor--on kickoff returns or anything else, for that matter.
“It’s hard to explain how good (the Hurricanes) are unless you’re out there,” Ismail said.
No, it isn’t. All you had to do was look at the scoreboard. And Holtz’s drooping shoulders.
MIAMI’S THIRD-QUARTER DRIVE
Here is the 22-play, 80-yard Miami drive that took the first 10 minutes 47 seconds of the third quarter and gave the Hurricanes their final touchdown in Saturday’s 27-10 victory over No. 1-ranked Notre Dame.
SITUATION YARDLINE PLAY 1st and 10 Miami 20 FB Leonard Conley off right tackle (+5). 2nd and 5 Miami 25 FB Stephen McGuire off right tackle (no gain). 3rd and 5 Miami 25 QB Craig Erickson pass to Conley (+5). 1st and 10 Miami 30 Conley off right tackle (+2). 2nd and 8 Miami 32 Erickson pass for FL Dale Dawkins incomplete. 3rd and 8 Miami 32 Erickson pass to TE Rob Chudzinski (+7). 4th and 1 Miami 39 McGuire off left tackle (+2). 1st and 10 Miami 41 Dead-ball personal foul against Miami (-15). 1st and 25 Miami 26 Erickson fumble recovered by C Bobby Garcia (-23). 2nd and 48 Miami 3 McGuire up middle (+4). 3rd and 44 Miami 7 Erickson pass to WR Randal Hill (+44). 1st and 10 Notre Dame 49 McGuire up middle (+4). 2nd and 6 Notre Dame 45 Conley off right tackle (+5). 3rd and 1 Notre Dame 40 Conley off right tackle (+2). 1st and 10 Notre Dame 38 Erickson pass for Chudzinski incomplete. 2nd and 10 Notre Dame 38 Erickson pass to Conley (+6). 3rd and 4 Notre Dame 32 Conley sweep (+13). 1st and 10 Notre Dame 19 McGuire off right tackle (+5). 2nd and 5 Notre Dame 14 McGuire up middle (+1). 3rd and 4 Notre Dame 13 Erickson pass to Hill (+7). 1st and goal Notre Dame 6 Conley up middle (No gain). 2nd and goal Notre Dame 6 Conley up middle (+1). 3rd and goal Notre Dame 5 Erickson pass to Dawkins for touchdown.
SITUATION 1ST DOWN 1st and 10 2nd and 5 3rd and 5 1st down 1st and 10 2nd and 8 3rd and 8 4th and 1 1st down. 1st and 10 1st and 25 2nd and 48 3rd and 44 1st down 1st and 10 2nd and 6 3rd and 1 1st down 1st and 10 2nd and 10 3rd and 4 1st down 1st and 10 2nd and 5 3rd and 4 1st down 1st and goal 2nd and goal 3rd and goal