MIAMI, OCT. 10 -- The University of Maryland football team can mull this over while eating Sunday brunch: It wasn't Miami's quarterback-come-lately, Steve Walsh, who led the Hurricanes to a 46-16 victory tonight, nor was it the school's all-time leading pass receiver, Michael Irvin.
In fact, it was none of the usual aspects that you'd expect from the third-ranked team in the nation. Instead, it was a 6-foot-1, 200-pound special teams player named Bubba McDowell.
McDowell, a fourth-year junior, blocked one punt and partially blocked another in the first half, each leading to Miami scores. Significantly, that's when Miami appeared most in need of a boost.
"I told the whole team they better be thankful for the special teams," said Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson. "The punt blocks early are what kept us in there."
Subtract the McDowell efforts and their related scores and it's 8-7 Maryland at the half -- not 17-8 Miami.
Miami might have been banking on such efforts by the special teams in general, and McDowell in particular. In three seasons, McDowell has blocked eight punts. Six times, those blocks have led to Miami points.
"We studied the films," Johnson said. "We felt we could put some pressure on the punter."
"They were in there all night," said Maryland punter Darryl Wright. "After the first one I had to speed up my motion. I also stepped to the right because the majority of the rush was coming from the left."
Or wherever McDowell was lined up. McDowell's first block came when Maryland's opening drive stalled at midfield. He broke in from the right (the punter's left) and swatted the ball. All-America safety Bennie Blades picked it up and returned it for a touchdown, helping Miami to a 7-0 lead before its offense took the field.
"I just lined up in the gap," McDowell said, "in between the tackle and the end. And they had to block me or Bennie."
Maryland missed both, it seemed. Blades was right behind McDowell to pick up the loose ball.
Miami, possibly experiencing a slight let down after victories over intrastate rivals Florida and Florida State and a 51-7 drubbing of Arkansas, was unimpressive and had punting troubles of its own when its first series stalled.
Willis Peguese's snap sailed over the head of punter Jeff Feagles and out of the end zone for a safety and a 7-2 score.
In the first half, Maryland had 150 yards total offense to Miami's 96 and held the ball for six more minutes than Miami.
Still, the Hurricanes had McDowell. Starting at left cornerback for the first time, in place of injured Donald Ellis, McDowell might have had more on his mind going into the game, but it didn't detract from his specialty.
On Maryland's final possession of the first half, McDowell partially blocked another Wright punt. That one wound up traveling 15 yards, to the Maryland 30. Six plays later, Miami's Greg Cox had himself a 22-yard field goal.
So what makes McDowell such a good punt blocker?
"The key is to get off the snap," he said, circled by a knot of reporters.
Said Blades, who lines up next to him: "I really don't know why he's so good at it. He gets a good jump of the ball and people just tend to miss him."