The Miami Hurricanes hope they found today in Kenny Kelly the quarterback who can lead them back to their glorious era of four national titles between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Kelly, a 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore who can throw from the pocket and scramble with speed, took successful first steps by completing 17 of 25 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another touchdown, in guiding the Hurricanes to a 23-12 upset victory over Ohio State in a less-than-classic, mistake-filled 17th Kickoff Classic.
Kelly also passed and ran for a pair of two-point conversions as Miami, ranked No. 12, beat Ohio State, which had been ranked prematurely at No. 9. The Buckeyes proved to be an almost mirror-image of Miami with an abundance of runners, receivers and defenders, and their own desperate -- but unfulfilled -- need for an emerging quarterback. Their first opening-game defeat since 1986, when they lost to Alabama in the Kickoff Classic, surely will prompt a review of their season-long ambitions as neither Austin Moherman nor backup Steve Bellisari were able to guide the Buckeyes with nearly the assurance of the departed Joe Germaine, who led them to an 11-1 record and No. 2 national ranking in 1998.
Miami clinched the game when Kelly, who spent the summer playing minor league baseball, completed a 67-yard scoring pass to Santana Moss with eight seconds left in the first half. Kelly ran for two additional points and a 23-9 Miami lead. He scored on a seven-yard run and passed to tailback James Jackson for two points and a 15-9 Miami lead with 3 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the half. Jackson, who rushed for 102 yards, scored Miami's other touchdown with a 44-yard run off the right side just 3:16 into the game.
"It was a great way to start the season," Miami Coach Butch Davis said. "Kenny learned more today than he did in two years of being at the University of Miami." But Kelly also threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. "I hope I got the turnovers out of my system," he said. He was fortunate on the long scoring pass, which Ohio State Coach John Cooper termed a "jump ball." Moss had to come back for the heave, which got held up in a 15-mph wind, then circled two defenders to score.
Ohio State managed its only touchdown, and lead, two plays after a Kelly fumble in the first quarter when Moherman threw six yards to tight end Steve Wisniewski. "We've got two weeks to get ready for UCLA," Cooper said. "If we don't play better, we won't beat UCLA. We need a lot of work before we have a team like we've come to expect at Ohio State."
Kelly spread his passes among six receivers, including a 42-yarder to fullback Mondriel Fulcher that led to Kelly's rushing touchdown. Najeh Davenport added 83 yards on the ground. Linebacker Dan Morgan led the defense. Many in the crowd of 73,037 departed early to cool off from the 90-degree heat, while 21,000 who journeyed from Ohio sat quietly as Miami controlled the ball for most of the mistake- and penalty-filled second half.
Much of what Ohio State attempted backfired. Cooper switched from Moherman to Bellisari after the Buckeyes, leading 9-7, were intercepted at the Miami 28-yard line in the second quarter. In two series, the left-hander failed to move the team. He all but ended the first series with a lateral that went out of bounds and fumbled the first snap of his second and last series. Cooper called time out with seconds left in the first half, shortly before Kelly hit his "Hail Mary."
Cooper, with Moherman in mind, said that "our offensive line did not give our young, inexperienced quarterback enough time to set up, throw the football and read his coverages." And he added that Bellisari will play again in the next game. "I don't feel we played today as well as we're capable of playing," Cooper said.
The future looked better for the Hurricanes than the Kickoff Classic, which may be discontinued after the 20th edition in 2002. Miami finished strongly last season, beating UCLA and knocking the Bruins out of the national title race in a game Davis said "put life back in the program." The Hurricanes' next major tests will come against Penn State Sept. 18 in the Orange Bowl and at Florida State Oct. 9.