SOUTH BEND, IND., OCT. 20 -- If, indeed, the game today between second-ranked Miami and No. 6 Notre Dame was the last one of its kind until at least the year 2000, maybe college football fans should write to the president asking him to intervene. This game was too good to be last of its species. It was a tease, a constant reminder of what could have been throughout the 1990s.
The Irish again used the magic of sold-out Notre Dame Stadium to simultaneously keep alive their quest for a national title and end Miami's. Notre Dame, 8-1 against Miami at home throughout the series, limited the mighty Hurricanes offense to minus four yards rushing in the third quarter and caused three second-half turnovers in beating Miami, 29-20, before a foot-stomping crowd of 59,075.
Notre Dame (5-1) ended Miami's recent dominance in the series, which has produced the national champion the last three years. The Hurricanes had won five of the previous six games against the Irish. Miami falls to 4-2, and instead of being consumed by a quest for the national title, is now playing essentially for a bowl game.
"You just can't make the mistakes we made in the second half of the ballgame and expect to win," said Miami Coach Dennis Erickson. "Now we have to sit down and see where we're going."
Amazingly, it is the first time since 1984 Miami has lost two regular season games. With third-ranked Tennessee losing today, it is possible that Notre Dame could take the Hurricanes' No. 2 spot behind Virginia.
The Irish won with a combination of running razzmatazz, special teams (especially Raghib Ismail), special plays, and with the foot of Craig Hentrich, who made a school-record five field goals (from 25, 44, 34, 35, and 35 yards). Hentrich was important because the Irish had difficulty scoring once they got inside the 31-yard line. In fact, until the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had run 25 of its 52 plays from inside the 31 without a touchdown.
But perhaps the biggest key for the Irish was their running game. It was a succession of misdirection plays: reverses, double reverses, counters, fake handoffs and option plays. Miami entered with the No. 2 run defense in the country, allowing only 62 yards a game. But the Irish rushed for 276 yards, the most against Miami this season, with Ismail gaining 100 of those yards on 13 carries. He also ran back a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
"They didn't stop running the ball," said defensive tackle Russell Maryland, who had 14 tackles despite being double- and triple-teamed at times. "They had a lot of trick plays and we got caught by them. They came out with all they had and I guess it was too much for us."
"We beat an awfully good football team today," Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz said. "They are one of the best teams we've faced since I've been at Notre Dame."
The Hurricanes rushed just 10 times in the second half for 20 yards. Miami quarterback Craig Erickson played fairly well -- 20-of-36 passing for 355 yards -- but one of his two interceptions led to Notre Dame's go-ahead touchdown with 6:16 left.
That final Irish touchdown -- and get this -- was designed Friday morning by Holtz at breakfast. It's called a "fullback dump" and the Irish had never practiced it, but one would never know it: Quarterback Rick Mirer threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to fullback Rodney Culver in the face of an all-out blitz. Culver scraped the end zone with his feet, and scored Notre Dame's first offensive touchdown against Miami in eight quarters. Culver, who rushed for 76 yards, remembers his breakfast conversation with Holtz and what the coach had said to him: "He told me to be ready because we might use it."
Two Notre Dame turnovers in the first period led to 10 Miami points and a 10-3 lead with 1:43 left in the first quarter. Which is where Ismail came in, or rather, where he went.
Miami had been trying to keep the ball away from the "Rocket," but he caught Carlos Huerta's kickoff anyway at the 6, slipped at the 13 but recovered and sprinted 94 yards for a touchdown. Huerta had the angle on Ismail at about the 40, but Ismail accelerated so fast Huerta had might as well been standing in the parking lot. It was Ismail's fifth kickoff return for a touchdown of his career (two against Rice and two against Michigan), which is a school record. He tied the score at 10.
"After I got by the kicker," said Ismail, who had a career high 268 all-purpose yards, "I felt I had a chance to get it to the house." Ismail had to be helped to the locker room before halftime after becoming dizzy. But he came back to do most of his damage as a running back.
Erickson's one-yard touchdown run, and two Hentrich field goals made the score 17-16 at the half. The battle of the field goals continued in the second half, with Hentrich adding two to make it 22-17 and Huerta making one to pull the Hurricanes within 22-20.
Then Erickson threw his most costly interception. Lamar Thomas's over-the-back, one-handed, twisting 40-yard catch eventually led to a Miami third and seven at the Irish 33. Erickson was pressured by nose tackle Chris Zorich and outside linebacker Chris Jones, and threw the ball at cornerback Todd Lyght, who was waiting at the 10.
"He was looking for the open zone," Lyght said. "Our front three got good pressure on him."
Notre Dame then went 57 yards in seven plays for the 29-20 lead. Miami almost scored after that, but fullback Leonard Conley fumbled near the goal line and the Irish recovered.
"This is the game we'll remember for the rest of our lives," Zorich said.