MIAMI, OCT. 6 -- It wasn't passing that put the University of Miami back into the chase for the national championship this afternoon. This is a new decade, and if the Hurricanes are to win their fourth national title in seven years, they apparently have decided to do it with a new strategy.
What they did on the ground against previously undefeated and No. 2-ranked Florida State was something straight out of a Woody Hayes playbook. And it worked incredibly well as the ninth-ranked Hurricanes defeated the Seminoles, 31-22, before 80,396, the second-largest crowd to watch a Hurricanes game at the Orange Bowl.
Running backs Steve McGuire and Leonard Conley dashed for 176 and 144 yards, respectively, as Miami gained 334 yards on the ground, its most since 1987.
In the process, the Hurricanes (3-1) denied Florida State (4-1) an opportunity to ascend to the nation's No. 1 ranking after Notre Dame was upset by Stanford earlier in the day. The victory avenged Miami's 24-10 loss to Florida State last season, the Hurricanes' only defeat on the way to the national championship, and ended the Seminoles' 14-game winning streak while extending Miami's home winning streak to 34. Miami, which lost to Brigham Young in the season-opener, is certain to leap higher this week.
"We're back on track for the national championship," said Conley, a senior who scored two first-half touchdowns and had the rushing game of his collegiate career.
Miami, three-time national champion in the 1980s, took a 24-0 first-half lead, then hung on. But the Hurricanes put the game away with a 6 1/2-minute, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the game that featured 13 plays, only two of which were passes.
Of the uncharacteristic Hurricanes conservatism, Coach Dennis Erickson said, "It wasn't really anything other than we wanted to establish the running game."
The past three seasons this matchup has had a direct effect on the national championship. There will be a wait to see where the fallout from this game lands, but no one has to wait to figure the game out. It wasn't anything more than an industrial-strength first half by the Hurricanes and their offensive line, led by tackle Mike Sullivan and guard Luis Cristobal, followed by one stunning fourth-quarter drive.
The Seminoles fought back from that huge deficit and closed to 24-16 before Miami sealed the win with a very un-Miami-like drive. Beginning at their 20 with 11:30 left, McGuire and Conley churned their way down the field, devouring big chunks of yardage. McGuire, who after the game fingered a fat lip (thanks to a punch from cornerback Terrell Buckley on his first carry) and gingerly patted a sore stomach (cramps from dehydration during the second quarter), finally carried the ball over from the 2 with 5:07 remaining.
"That last drive was a thing of beauty," said Erickson.
Although the Seminoles scored on a 19-yard catch by tight end Dave Roberts with 24 seconds to play, the game essentially was over when McGuire landed in the end zone. Miami was that overpowering.
"We lost this game in the first half," said Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden, denied his 200th victory in his first attempt. "I can't believe the lack of poise we showed early. We just kept putting ourselves in a hole. You can't start every drive first and 20."
Florida State managed just 57 yards on 23 rushes and changed quarterbacks three times -- Brad Johnson to Casey Weldon to Johnson to Weldon again. The Seminoles finally stopped the Miami scoring binge and meekly put themselves into the game on Lawrence Dawsey's 19-yard reception with 1:40 left in the half. Dawsey, a senior who has caught a pass in 26 straight games, ended up with 13 receptions for 160 yards and nearly single-handedly kept the Seminoles from folding in the second half. No FSU receiver had caught so many passes in a game since 1969.
Meanwhile, Miami's two leading pass catchers, Wesley Carroll and Randal Hill, were shut out. Erickson threw 23 times and handed off 49 times. He had just one touchdown pass, a 10-yard run-and-pitch to Lamar Thomas in the first half.
Miami kept the ball on the ground and with good reason: It didn't have to throw. The Hurricanes' first scoring drive, to Carlos Huerta's 34-yard field goal, told the story. Erickson was content to hand the ball to McGuire and watch him go for eight of the 13 plays in the drive. He completed just one pass and threw only two others. Miami even pulled a reverse on Florida State, the usual pranksters in this game, good for 21 yards by Hill.
Quickly, the Hurricanes struck again. Taking over after a punt return at the FSU 44, McGuire bounced off a pile at the right side of his line, then dashed left for a 29-yard gain. Conley went up the middle for seven before darting out of trouble in the middle of the field for an eight-yard touchdown run and a 10-0 Miami lead with 3:24 to go.
The Seminoles, on the other hand, instead of thriving on the trick play they have mastered, went in reverse. Next possession, the Seminoles began at their 18, advanced to the 30 on a Brad Johnson pass to Dawsey and then retreated. A holding penalty was followed by illegal procedure, which was followed by a five-yard loss on an ill-advised screen pass. By then it was second and 30 at the 10, and FSU soon punted.
Early in the second quarter, Miami made it 17-0 when Conley ran over the top from the 1 after the drive was kept alive by a roughing-the-passer call on Florida State after a third-down incompletion.
Miami scored on its fourth consecutive possession on Erickson's picture-perfect pass to Thomas at the end of a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Only then did Florida State come to life, taking the kickoff and marching 69 yards to Dawsey's touchdown.
In the second half, FSU added Richie Andrews's 32-yard field goal and Amp Lee's two-yard run to come within eight, 24-16, with 11:30 left. Then Miami embarked on the drive that won the game. On the run.