1987 was a prolific season for the Miami Hurricanes football team. The Canes, led by legendary hall of fame coach Jimmy Johnson, would run the table to win the national championship. That year Miami beat 6 top 20 teams (5 of them were in the top ten!), mostly in dominant fashion. Most Canes fans will point to either wins over FSU or Notre Dame as the highlight of the year, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, the game that gets little mention was second ranked Miami’s 20-16 win over then #8 South Carolina in the Orange Bowl.
This game immediately followed the 24-0 manhandling of Notre Dame and had all the makings of a “let down.” Johnson said after the game “we couldn't afford a letdown. South Carolina is a better team than Notre Dame.'' This game was one of those “swagger” game as the Canes were constantly in the Gamecocks’ face, taunting them relentlessly. Miami and SC would take fans on an emotional roller coaster as UM would have to rally twice against the team that had the second ranked defense in the nation giving up just 9 points a game. Down 13-7 in the second quarter, Miami would then drive 78 yards to go up 14-13 highlighted by a 42 yard pass from Steve Walsh to Mike Irvin and a fake field goal as holder Jeff Feagles ran 24 yards to the 3 yard line, setting up a Mel Bratton touchdown run.
Walsh would then hit Brian Blades on a 56 yard touchdown in the third quarter putting the Canes up 20-13 after the extra point got blocked. South Carolina would add a field goal to cut the Miami lead to 4.
The game, however, almost turned on a controversial play in the fourth quarter when the Cocks fumbled the ball but that call was overturned due to an “inadvertent” whistle by a referee. On the next play, Miami all-American defensive end, Dan Stubbs blew through the South Carolina offensive line on a direct path to QB Todd Ellis. The play was whistled dead on a penalty but Stubbs kept going and grabbed Ellis and threw him to the ground. A brawl ensued as both benches emptied onto the field as Gamecock players jumped Stubbs. Later, South Carolina officials would accuse Miami of delivering cheap shots throughout the game and even would go so far as to publicly say they would not schedule the Canes again.
On the next play, senior linebacker George Mira Jr., intercepted an Ellis pass with 9 minutes on the clock. Miami couldn’t score and gave the ball back to the Cocks but Stubbs stepped up big sacking Ellis and the Canes defense held him to one completion in their final series. Miami would end up on top, keeping their perfect season intact.