MITCHELL SIMON 1919-2014 | WAYMON CLARK
September 27, 1986
In the 20th meeting in college football history of the two top-ranked teams, defending national champion and #1 Oklahoma traveled to Miami seeking revenge against the #2 Hurricanes (3-0). History was on the Sooners' side, for in the previous 19 games, aside from a pair of ties, only three times had a #2 team knocked off the top team.
Oklahoma sophomore quarterback Jamelle Holieway, who had taken charge of the offense in the Miami loss a year earlier when since-transferred Troy Aikman broke his leg, came in with a 10-0 record as a starter. He had the wishbone grinding out an average of 467 yards per game, as they had won their first two games by a total score of 101-3. Although it was still early, 240-pound linebacker Brian "The Boz" Bosworth led an Oklahoma defense that appeared even better than a year earlier. They were leading the country in points allowed, rushing yards per game (41.5), and total defense (150.5).
Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson, who returned 18 starters from his 10-2 from a year earlier, was in the process of mimicking what Oklahoma had been doing for a while, using fast players on defense. He would take slightly undersized defensive players that could all run like track stars, and made great use of their speed. But he was putting a slightly different spin on the formula, as he bulked up fast linebackers and made them defensive linemen, and he took fast defensive backs, had them hit the weight room, and turned them into linebackers. Finally, he'd then find the fastest players to play defensive back. The one variable was that they were under their fourth defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt, in as many years.
Heisman Trophy candidate Vinny Testaverde was back at quarterback, a senior who had once considered leaving the university, and Miami's pro-style passing offense that was averaging 39 points per game featured three speedsters for targets, Brian Blades, Michael Irvin and Brett Perriman. It had given the Oklahoma secondary major problems in their previous meeting a year earlier. Even though Miami came into the game having beaten South Carolina, Florida and Texas Tech, they were six-point underdogs on their home field. But it was a turf that the Sooners were familiar with, having played in the Orange Bowl each of the past two seasons. So it was the Boz, who had proclaimed loudly and often that the Sooners would reassert themselves, versus Vinny in front of over 71,000 fans.
The game opened as a defensive struggle, as the Sooners' secondary was far more mature and cohesive than the one Miami had exploited a year earlier. Midway through the second quarter in a still scoreless game, a 15-yard punt gave Miami the ball on the Oklahoma 48. With an offensive line that consistently provided its quarterback with more than enough time, Testaverde hurt the Sooners with his mobility.
He turned two potentially damaging plays into gains that provided an emotional lift. First, Testaverde avoided the rush long enough to loop a 13-yard pass to Highsmith. Two plays later from the 34 came a show-stopping and possible Heisman signature play when he scrambled from the right sideline to the left sideline, evading four tacklers that left him virtually stripped of his jersey, before going out of bounds for a ten-yard gain. Three plays later from the eight, he threw a pass to backup tight end Alfredo Roberts in the end zone, who made a leaping catch between Bosworth and Sonny Brown for a touchdown. Greg Cox's kick made it 7-0.
The Hurricanes defense had already created problems for the Oklahoma wishbone. With the Miami defensive linemen often neutralizing the normally overpowering Sooner blockers, and with their swift defensive backs offering run support knowing that a pass was highly unlikely, the Canes forced Oklahoma to punt five rimes on its first six possessions.
The Sooners had appeared to tie the score when Holieway scrambled to his right and looped a high pass to halfback Patrick Collins in the back of the end zone with 57 seconds left in the half, but a penalty for having an ineligible receiver downfield nullified the score. So the only points they could manage came on Tim Lashar's 31-yard field goal, and Miami led at the half, 7-3.
After the intermission, Oklahoma came apart, and they lost five yards on their first possession. Miami took control and solved the Sooners' defense behind Testaverde's strength and mobility, but mostly behind his right arm. Given the time to search for open areas of the field, he often threw short passes underneath the Oklahoma coverage. He properly read a safety blitz and flipped an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charles Henry to give the Canes a 14-3 lead.
Oklahoma's Anthony Stafford fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and J.C. Penny recovered for Miami at the Sooner 15. Three plays later from the five, Testaverde then fooled the Sooners' defense with a play fake and rollout that resulted in an easy scoring pass to Irvin as Miami went up 21-3.
Oklahoma's wishbone was now in an uncomfortable position of having to come from behind, and it was not one in which they were well suited. But they cut the lead on a great 54-yard touchdown reception by tight end Keith Jackson, as he combined power and speed in bowling over star defensive back Bennie Blades, then sprinting for the score. But Testaverde came right back and threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 30-yard strike down the middle to Irvin, and Miami carried a 28-10 lead into the final period.
Oklahoma cut into the lead when Stafford scored from two yards out. But the pass for two points failed, and Miami cruised home with a 28-16 victory. It was just Oklahoma's fourth loss in 45 games as the top-ranked team.
The Hurricanes' undersized, but fast, defense had contained the vaunted wishbone, again showing that the one element it couldn't beat was blazing defensive speed, holding it to 186 yards. Linemen Jerome Brown and Daniel Stubbs combined with linebacker George Mira, Jr. for 45 tackles. Stubbs spearheaded the effort, nabbing a quarterback sack, forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble.
For the Sooners, Bosworth had backed his pre-game bragging with a school-record 22 tackles. He led a defense that stuffed the Hurricane rushing attack, allowing just 53 yards on 36 carries. But they could not control the air.
Testaverde was spectacular, throwing for 261 yards and four touchdowns, including a school-record 14 straight completions that came in the third quarter. His longest completion of the day was 33 yards, and he finished by connecting on 21 of 28 attempts. "I just try to play my best game every time out," he said afterwards. "When the other guys play like they did tonight, they make me look great."
"He's the best quarterback we have ever played against in my 21 years at Oklahoma. He's just too good," said Switzer, who year in and year out heads one of the country's top programs.
But he was also a guy who had to swallow hard as Testaverde throttled his teams' chances to avenge their only defeat a year earlier, and in the process, dreams for an undefeated season. "He should win the Heisman," offered Switzer, "I don't think anyone else is even close."
"I said all week I thought we were the best team," Johnson countered with afterwards. "I just wanted to play and see which team was the best."
In the process, Miami put a death grip on the national championship, much the way Testaverde put one on the Heisman Trophy. The Hurricanes have seven games remaining, but a home date with Florida State is seemingly the only obstacle between them and an 11-0 season, which would culminate with a national championship game.
Source: Jeff Linkowski