MIAMI, JAN. 1 -- All the victories and all the statistics couldn't help No. 1 Oklahoma tonight. No. 2 Miami had the smooth, clean lines of its beauteous passing game, and that was more than enough to defeat the Sooners in the Orange Bowl, 20-14, and win only the second national championship in school history.
The Hurricanes (12-0) had an unheralded sophomore at quarterback in Steve Walsh; were missing their leading tackler in linebacker George Mira Jr., who failed an NCAA prebowl drug test, and were working with a reshuffled offensive line due to injuries. The Sooners (11-1) were ranked No. 1 in the country statistically in both total offense and defense, and had everything in their favor. Or so it appeared.
What was largely a home crowd of 74,760 looked on as Miami defeated Oklahoma for the third time in three seasons. While that may not sound like much, consider this: The Hurricanes are the only team to beat the Sooners' state-of-the-art wishbone in that span.
Walsh threw touchdown passes of 30 yards to running back Melvin Bratton in the first quarter and 23 yards to flanker Michael Irvin in the third period. Kicker Greg Cox made a 56-yard field goal in the third quarter to set an Orange Bowl record, then kicked a 48-yarder with 3:41 left for a 20-7 lead.
"I can't think of anything but this very moment," Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said, drenched and standing in the midst of pandemonium at midfield after winning his first national championship and raising his record to 41-8 in four years. "If there is such a thing as ecstasy, this is it."
Miami won despite the absence of Mira and offensive lineman John O'Neill, who also sat out the game after failing an NCAA drug test. Bernard Clark replaced Mira and made a game-high 14 tackles. Clark was named Miami's most valuable player.
The victory ended a painful three-year losing streak in bowl games for Miami, which got its last postseason victory in 1983 over Nebraska in this classic to win its first national championship, under former coach Howard Schnellenberger. The Hurricanes lost the 1986 title to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, which invited criticism of Johnson and his outspoken, flamboyant and not particularly well-liked team.
"For three years we've been in the other locker room," Walsh said. "It's a tough feeling to deal with, and we're just getting used to this new one."
Oklahoma scored its first points on a one-yard run by Anthony Stafford with nine seconds left in the first half to tie the score at 7-7, ending a 49-yard drive that took 15 plays after Walsh's only interception.
On a trick play with 2:05 left in the game, Sooners offensive guard Mark Hutson scored on a 29-yard run after quarterback Charles Thompson left the ball under center and faked a handoff.
That it took a gimmick to make the final score close was an indication of the completeness of Miami's victory. Although the Hurricanes' pro-style offense is refined and delicate, Miami's execution was thoroughly physical. Rarely has Oklahoma been so worn down and worn out, but Miami's size and quickness on both sides of the line did both.
"The best team won," Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer said. "When we have to throw the ball we're in trouble. Throwing every down, that's not our bag."
Oklahoma's hope that Miami could be stopped by a defensive unit that had given up only 7.5 points a game and featured an improved secondary and pass rush proved unfounded. Walsh completed 18 of 30 passes for 209 yards. Miami's ball control resulted in Oklahoma having the ball for only 11:23 in the second half -- not nearly enough for a wishbone that is quick, yet shackled to the ground, and is not a catch-up offense.
A Sooners offense that had averaged 499 yards a game was held to 255 yards, and the Hurricanes gained 281. No Oklahoma back gained more than 50 yards, and Thompson, a redshirt freshman who replaced the injured Jamelle Holieway, was held to 29 yards on 19 carries. He completed just four of 12 passes for 56 yards.
"I knew once we got them down we'd win," Irvin said. "We broke their bones. They can't come back, we knew that last year and the year before."
It took Cox's Orange Bowl-record kick with 8:56 left in the third quarter to break the halftime tie, and it was an important kick. Miami took a 10-7 lead on the monstrous attempt that Johnson said "would have been good from 68 yards." The previous record was 51 yards, set by Oklahoma's Michael Keeling in a 1981 victory over Florida State. Johnson decided to attempt it because Cox had the wind at his back, and because Miami's defense was playing well enough to gamble.
That was the first of two heart-stopping, but successful, decisions Johnson made to change the course of the game. An Oklahoma punt later, Miami swooped into the end zone again, this time on the 23-yard scoring pass from Walsh to Irvin. It finished a demoralizing 64-yard drive that probably should have ended three plays earlier, on fourth and four at the Oklahoma 29. Rather than punt, Johnson again chose to go for it.
"When you play a team like Oklahoma, every call is a gutsy one," Johnson said.
Walsh hit Bratton for a six-yard gain on a quick swing pass under a blitz. Bratton sprinted to the sideline, where Walsh found him blindly as the pocket collapsed. "I was getting hit, and I put it where I thought he'd be," Walsh said.
Bratton left the game in the fourth quarter with an undetermined amount of ligament damage in his left knee.
The touchdown pass came on a third-and-10 play, Irvin beating all-America safety Ricky Dixon by three strides on a streak pattern to the end zone, where Walsh found him in the corner. Cox's extra point made it 17-7 with 2:37 left in the third quarter. "He made a good break to the ball and just ran under it," Walsh said.
Oklahoma needed to respond quickly, but its promising next drive was cut short. On third and 10 at the Sooners 40, Thompson hit tight end Keith Jackson at the Miami 23, but safety Selwyn Brown jarred the ball loose with his helmet, and linebacker Randy Shannon recovered at the Hurricanes 23.
The turnover came on the first play of the fourth quarter. Miami couldn't do anything with the ball except kill time, but when slow-moving Oklahoma was forced to punt a series later from its 27 with 10:27 to go, the Sooners' chances were severely damaged.
"They've beaten us two other times, but it never bothered me like this," Jackson said. "This was for the national championship and the best team won."
That left Switzer with little to say. When he met Johnson at midfield for an amiable handshake his only remark was, "The guard-around fooled you."
Johnson replied, "Yes it did."
Tonight's game marked the 23rd time since 1943 that the top two ranked teams met. The No. 1 team won 14 of those games, and two ended in ties. But it was only the eighth time that No. 1 met No. 2 in a bowl game for a national championship. Oklahoma 0 7 0 7 14 Miami, Fla. 7 0 10 3 20 First Quarter
M -- Bratton 30 pass from Walsh (Cox kick), 3:28 Second Quarter
O -- Stafford 1 run (Lashar kick), 14:51 Third Quarter
M -- Cox 56 FG, 6:08
M -- Irvin 23 pass from Walsh (Cox kick), 13:23 Fourth Quarter
M -- Cox 48 FG, 11:19
O -- Hutson 29 fumble recovery (Lasher kick), 12:55
Miami Oklahoma First downs 15 13 Rushes-yards 38-72 53-179 Passing 209 76 Return Yards 7 22 Comp-Att-Int 18-30-1 5-13-0 Punts 6-45 8-39 Fumbles-Lost 0-0 4-2 Penalties-Yards 8-85 5-39 Time of
RUSHING -- Miami: Williams 19-41, Bratton 8-18, Gary 4-17, Conley 3-2, Walsh 4-minus 6. Oklahoma: Collins 1
PASSING -- Miami: Walsh 18-30-1-209. Oklahoma: Thompson 4-12-0-56, Collins 1-1-0-20.
RECEIVING -- Miami: Bratton 9-102, Irvin 4-57, Blades 2-26, Perriman 1-9, Roberts 1-9, Gary 1-6. Oklahoma: