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Miami Hurricanes Games That We Love: 1991 Houston Cougars

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That time Miami stared down the barrel of Houston’s Run-and-Shoot offense and made a mockery of the Cougars.

Gino Torretta

The Hurricanes and Cougars have played many times in the past. The first time the programs met was in 1957. Between then and the ‘91 matchup, there were 15 contests played out on the field, with the Hurricanes earning eight wins in that same time frame. In the 16th meeting, the conversation entering the game was around how much of a offensive spectacle the game would be with two of college football’s high-powered offenses pitted against one another.

Head coach Dennis Erickson was entering his third season at the helm of Miami football. After the Hurricanes put together a 10–2 record in the 1990 season, Coach Erickson and his team set their sights on another national title bid. The ’Canes were breaking in a new quarterback to start the season after QB Craig Erickson (no relations to the coach) was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. Learning from Steve Walsh and Erickson since his arrival to Coral Gables in 1989, QB Gino Torretta employed the knowledge he gleaned from his predecessors to win the starting QB job entering the season. In his very first game as a starter, Torretta heaved the ball downfield to an open Horace Copeland, who didn’t break stride on the way to a 99-yard touchdown pass, the longest in UM history. As was customary for most Miami offenses at the time, there was plenty of firepower at Torretta’s disposal in regards to the talent across the board. With Leon Searcy working at tackle, receivers Lamar Thomas, Kevin Williams, Darryl Spencer and the aforementioned Copeland, there was no shortage of pass-catchers to rely on.

To borrow a phrase from pop-punk band Fallout Boy, “this ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamn arms race.” From the late 80s into the early 90s, Miami had become one of the most prolific offenses in the nation—regardless of their playing in the Southwest Conference. Behind their run and shoot offense that was first installed at the school by Jack Pardee and his staff, Houston ran the score up consistently. By 1991, John Jenkins had assumed the role of head coach after being the team’s offensive coordinator as part of Pardee’s staff. Under Jenkins’ watch, Houston threw for miles upon miles each season—it’s one of the reasons why the Andre Ware became the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner after the 1989 season. With Pardee off to the Houston Oilers to implement his run and shoot in the NFL and Andre Ware gone to the pros with him, the Cougars put some new faces at the forefront of the program to start the 90s.

David Klingler
Against Southwest Conference opponents, Houston QB David Klingler was able to run around untouched. That was not the case when his team travelled to Coral Gables.

Houston’s QB was a man named David Klingler. Unfortunately for their competition, there was no drop-off as the Cougars lit up their opponents in record fashion. Their only blemish in the 1990 season was a loss to the University of Texas 25–24. The following game Klingler went on to throw 11 touchdowns—a single-game record—against Eastern Washington. They typified why there was massive discontent among other programs against Houston—because they, like another school we know, were accused of running up the score when the end result was not in question.

It only makes sense that two programs that have a reputation for their relentless nature would battle one another in a game that was polarizing for fans because of the success both teams enjoyed at the expense of others.

The setting was the magnificent Orange Bowl. With kickoff set for primetime on a September evening in Miami, where the home team served court on the high of a 35-game home winning streak, it couldn’t have been more special than that. The outcome is clear for Miami fans: they expect the final result to be a win—even to this day this remains true.. The question is in what fashion will the team go and secure that victory? As the No. 3 ranked team hosted the No. 10 Cougars, there would be no tumbleweeds, chewing of straws or corny preamble before an offensive shootout at the OB. It’s too bad that only one team showed up for the fight.

It Was All Good Until The Game Got Under Way

It became evident from the opening kickoff that the Hurricanes were going to be the ones do the dictating that evening. Houston QB David Klingler’s best moment might have been getting off the bus before the game, because the rest of his evening did not go to script. The Hurricanes defense swarmed, harassed and badgered the Heisman hopeful, taking away the deep ball from the Cougars’ attack. Even underneath routes were not as open as they should have been for the Houston offense. Miami kept bringing the pressure and the Cougars were unable to hold up against defense that trotted out LB Michael Barrow, DT Mark Caesar and DE Kevin Patrick.

It may have been Gino Torretta’s second start at The U, but he certainly was not showing any signs of reservation on the big stage. Torretta passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns… in the first half! For the sake of transparency, despite returning a majority of their starters on defense from the season previous, Houston was one of the worst-ranked defenses in the country. The strategy that Jenkins had against the ’Canes was to blitz them early and often.

The result was Torretta navigating the clutter at the line of scrimmage to find an open target down the field, putting together his own case to be a Heisman contender for the remainder of the season. Torretta finished the game completing 16 of his 35 pass attempts for 365 passing yards and a career-high four touchdowns.

Not to take away from Gino’s performance, the execution of the game plan by the defense was just as vital to Miami’s margin of victory. The Hurricanes’ defense held the Cougars’ offense (that is used to putting upward of 50 points on teams) to just 10 points, with their only touchdown coming in garbage time. Klingler finished the day with 216 passing yards on 32 attempts, far below his career averages in each respective category. Defensive end Rusty Meaderis summarized the performance to the Baltimore Sun, “We were just getting off the ball. We knew we had one man to beat. You put our front four in that situation, and you’re going to have trouble.” After the dismantling Houston by a final score of 40–10 it sounded as though the Bad Boy Hurricanes were not too impressed with the competition that day. “We’re the bad boys of college football,” defensive lineman Anthony Hamlet said. “Houston’s just a bunch of wannabes trying to get some recognition.”

Significance of the Game

Lamar Thomas
Lamar Thomas
miamihurricanes.com

This game was supposed to be one of those old school main event fights. Houston was promoted as the young up-and-comers who, in their own minds, were the ‘run the score up, who cares if they’re mad, we’re going to keep scoring’ type team. That mentality surely endears a team to their fanbase so much that they become beloved and revered as the years pass. For the teams that look up at the scoreboard and wonder why those jerks won’t just put in their backups and run the clock, they can’t wait to see that team get their comeuppance. This may have been the first time in Miami football history where teams were happy that the Hurricanes beatdown on someone just because of how Houston carried themselves and their relentless nature.

This game re-affirmed that Miami is still an Alpha program that plays second fiddle to no one. It also helped to establish that Gino Torretta was himself a badass at quarterback—one that could take the Hurricanes to the promised land. However, that is a tale for another day.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!