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Miami Struts Back Into the Limelight : College football: Underdog Hurricanes regain top-dog status with dominating 34-20 rout of Florida State in Erickson's 'biggest victory.'

October 09, 1994|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — He left the field drenched in Gatorade, his gray bangs wet against his forehead, his arms flailing with joy, his smile seemingly there to stay. If you didn't know any better, you would have thought Miami Coach Dennis Erickson had just chugged a case of Jolt . . . or the more likely scenario: just beaten Florida State. Again.

This time the score was, 34-20, but with feeling. Erickson burst into the Hurricane locker room Saturday night, waited until the door was closed and then started hugging anybody within squeezing distance. In the privacy of those walls he also told his team that it was the biggest victory of his life.

The biggest win? Doesn't Erickson have two national championship rings? They don't give those away, do they?

But this was different. Miami entered the game against Florida State as underdogs--and in the Orange Bowl, no less, the same place where the Hurricanes had won an NCAA-record 58 consecutive games before Washington shocked them two weeks ago. Miami couldn't believe the slight and said so.

It got worse. The Hurricanes' quarterback, Frank Costa, was everybody's favorite scapegoat. Even one of his former teammates took a shot at him.

There was talk of unrest, of lowered expectations. A national championship was out of the question, the critics said. Suddenly a Big East Conference title sounded good and if that fell through, maybe a nice trip to say, the Peach Bowl.

All in all, it was football blasphemy for a program accustomed to swaggers and pregame quotes so inflammatory that fire extinguishers usually are required for listening. Insulted, that's what the Hurricanes were. Determined too.

So it became a night to make amends and better yet, a night to mend a Hurricane record, a ranking and a reputation. By the time Miami (4-1) was finished with the Seminoles (4-1), there was no doubting the obvious.

"I'd like to tell everyone," said Hurricane wide receiver Chris T. Jones, "that the Hurricanes are back !"

Florida State didn't need a reminder. This is the 13th time in Coach Bobby Bowden's 19 seasons at Florida State that Miami has beaten the Seminoles, the ninth time they've ended a Seminole undefeated season, the fifth consecutive time it has won in the dreaded Orange Bowl.

It gets worse. The Hurricanes have cost Bowden four national championships and now as many as three other ones. So flustered was Bowden after the latest defeat, that he couldn't even do simple arithmetic in the postgame interview.

"I can sum it up in four words," he said of the loss. "They outexecuted us."

Miami did more than that. It dominated, and in the process, became whole again.

The Hurricanes rushed for 185 yards against a defense that had allowed an average of 77. They recorded five sacks against Florida State's bewildered quarterbacks. They forced four interceptions and five turnovers in all. And more times than not, they turned Florida State's many mistakes into points.

Starting Seminole quarterback Danny Kanell, who threw three of the interceptions, was gone by the third quarter. Near the end of the fourth period, Kanell's replacement, Jon Stark, was also seated on the bench, replaced by Thad Busby.

Not that it mattered. By then the Hurricanes were in vintage woofing mode--dancing on the sideline, mugging for any camera pointed their way, conducting bench interviews, gesturing happily toward the 77,010 fans who filled the creaky old stadium. Across the way, the Seminoles stared at the scoreboard in disbelief.

"This was a perfect win, a perfect showing, a perfect game, a perfect scenario and a perfect way to show we're the best team in the country," Miami linebacker Rohan Marley said. "I keep telling people that, but they don't listen."

They will now, though the best-team-in-the-country-claim might be a little hard for nearby Florida, or Penn State or Colorado or Nebraska to stomach at the moment. After all, Miami still has that one loss at home and they still need considerable help from others if they hope to have a national championship shot.

But for the moment anything seems possible to the Hurricanes. They shut down mighty Florida State--outgaining them 363 yards to 219--and then they shut them up.

"I saw the quit in their eyes," said safety Malcolm Pearson. "They stopped talking. They kept their heads down. They didn't finish their pass routes."

There's a reason for that. Miami's offensive line, which outweighed Florida State's defensive line by almost 50 pounds per player, was a force all night. Fullback James Stewart had 95 yards and two touchdowns in 16 carries, while backup Danyell Ferguson added another 81 yards in nine carries.

Thanks to the rushing attack and later, a 16-yard touchdown interception return by cornerback Carlos Jones, Florida State was essentially out of the game by late in the third quarter, down 31-17.

And then there were the exploits of the beleaguered one, Costa.

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