After the University of Miami thrashed West Virginia, 20-3, Hurricane partisans had a suggestion today for the Orange Bowl selection committee.
"Orange Bowl, Orange Bowl," the fans yelled, nominating their marvelously quick 8-1 team for a likely matchup against currently top-ranked Nebraska.
It may not be a bad suggestion, especially since third-ranked and previously undefeated North Carolina lost to Maryland today. If Miami continues to win, the Orange Bowl selection folks probably will have little choice but to pick the hometown team.
Against a West Virginia team that was averaging 176 yards a game rushing, Miami allowed only a net two yards on the ground. That allowed the Hurricanes to concentrate on Mountaineers quarterback Jeff Hostetler.
"You can't win if you can't run," said Coach Don Nehlen. "Their defense ate us alive . . . Boy, Miami is good. They are as good as we have played defensively. And don't forget we've played some good ones."
West Virginia had been riding high in the ratings, climbing to No. 4 before losing last week to Penn State. Today, the Mountaineers not only fell out of consideration for a major bowl, but they also served as a springboard to lift Miami into the national spotlight.
The eighth largest home crowd in the school's history, an estimated 62,500, showed up for what Coach Howard Schnellenberger called a landmark day for his program.
"They announced this as the eighth largest but it was really the largest," said Schnellenberger, now in his fourth season. "Before, those crowds were half Gators (University of Florida) or half Seminoles (Florida State) or half Notre Dame. This was 95 percent Hurricanes.
"You want to know how far this program has come? We're 8-1 and have the largest crowd. How far will we go? No one knows, but we'll find out . . . I do know that this team is on the threshold of greatness."
Certainly, Miami's defense already is great. In six of its previous seven games, West Virginia had scored at least 23 points. In this one, the Mountaineers kicked a field goal on their first possession, then moved inside the Miami 40 just once the rest of the game.
West Virginia didn't have a rushing play of more than six yards. In the second half, the Mountaineeers were limited to 72 yards and a couple of trips over the 50. Hostetler was sacked five times, although Miami blitzed far less than usual.
"We didn't do anything fancy or different," said defensive end Fred Robinson. "We knew we had to stop their run and if we did that, we could concentrate on their passing. It worked very well."
Hostetler threw under almost constant pressure, completing 16 of 29 for 166 yards, 34 yards under his average. Nehlen finally took him out in the fourth period, explaining: "We thought he might get killed."
Since losing its opener to Florida, 28-3, Miami hasn't allowed more than 17 points in a game. In six games, opponents have been held to seven or fewer. The Hurricanes are big and mobile upfront, and very quick and agile in the secondary, which is a handsome combination.
On its first possession, Miami drove to the West Virginia 19, where freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar completed a touchdown pass to wide open tight end Glenn Dennison.
Then, despite constant threats, Miami couldn't get back into the end zone until the fourth period, when Kosar threw five yards to reserve tailback Keith Griffin.
In between, the Hurricanes had to settle for field goals of 36 and 31 yards from Jeff (The Flea) Davis, plus a couple of turnovers inside the West Virginia 10.
Kosar passed for 211 yards, including a wonderful 49-yarder to Wayne Brown over two defenders. That came in the middle of a 90-yard drive that ended in the final touchdown.
After being redshirted last year, Kosar has developed rapidly. He beat out two other young quarterbacks for the starting job and now has thrown for 13 touchdowns while completing more than 60 percent of his passes.
Schnellenberger helped Kosar today by deciding at halftime to come out running in the third quarter. The result was a 17-play, 62-yard march in which Miami ran nine times. That kind of balance made it simple for Kosar to pass the rest of the game.
"We beat one hell of a football team," said Schnellenberger, whose first recruits are now seniors after back-to-back 9-3 and 9-2 seasons. "But we were ready for this one. We were so keyed up I've spent the last two days trying to calm them down. I guess I'm glad now I didn't."