Long before that guy who used to coach in Gainesville moved up north, and not too long before a flag in the corner of the endzone snatchd a sixth national championship from the University of Miami’s fingers, the animosity between Ohio State and Miami was non-existent.
The programs had only met once before in 1977, twenty-two years before the rematch was set to kick off the 1999 college football season. In that initial meeting, it was Woody Hayes who led OSU to beat Lou Saban’s Miami squad 10–0. The backdrop for the ‘99 game was East Rutherford, New Jersey, at old Giants Stadium—a neutral venue that at the time was one of the more encapsulating platforms to host a football game, with the New York skyline serving as an urban oasis in the near background.
Entering the 1999 season, the Hurricanes were a team trying to recapture the glory of days past. A program that became not only accustomed to winning from the early 80s through to the early 90s, UM was expected to dominate. Miami was still in the midst of a three-year penalty that resulted in 31 scholarships taken away from the program. Yet, the Hurricanes appeared to be back on track on their way to a 9–3 record. Head coach Butch Davis was entering his fifth season at UM, cultivating local talent and assembling an impressive staff around him. After thumping NC State 46–23 in something called the Micron PC Bowl at what was once known as Pro Player Stadium in their own backyard, Miami was looking to make an immediate statement in their opening game against a vaunted opponent.
Ohio State walked into the ‘99 season with plenty of confidence and hype surrounding their prospects of contending for the national championship. If not for a late game collapse to Michigan State in ‘98, where the Buckeyes blew a 15 point lead toward the end of the game, OSU could have two national champions and just one asterisk in their collection. However, even with the departures of some key personnel, head coach John Cooper’s squad was projected to put forth a campaign to finish the job that they fell short of the season previous.
Miami had to replace both their starting running back Edgerrin James (4th round selection of Indianapolis Colts) and quarterback Scott Covington (7th round selection of Cincinnati Bengals). Miami was breaking in a green QB in Kenny Kelly, who was drafted before the season by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The dearth of talent surrounding the sophomore QB on offense worked in his favor. The likes of OL Joaquin Gonzalez, C Brett Romberg and T Bryant McKinnie were making headway upfront in the trenches.
As much as ’Canes fans boast about the 2018 receiver depth chart, the sheer amount of talent and depth at the position 19 years ago is beyond comprehension. With WR Santana Moss and WR Reggie Wayne leading the way, the Hurricanes walked out Bubba Franks at tight end to stamp the exclamation point on the starting group. There was also Daryl Jones, Kevin Beard, Andre Johnson and Aaron Moser that made this group as dynamic as any WR coach could dream of. UM used a running back-by-committee approach with Najeh Davenport and James Jackson to try to fill the void left by James’ departure.
The Game Itself
This contest may have been memorable for its outcome, but what many want to forget is that ball protection was low on the priority meter. Miami’s Kenny Kelly fumbled the ball twice and threw two interceptions in his first career start. Despite the miscues on offense, the Hurricane defense more than held their own. LB Dan Morgan flew to the ball as well as S Ed Reed who came down into the front-seven to bring pressure. That made for a difficult afternoon for OSU QB Austin Moherman. If it wasn’t Morgan making the play, it was LB Nate Webster, DB Al Blades or DL Damione Lewis—or a platoon of menacing defenders that made sustaining a drive a job that even Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt would decline.
The Hurricanes showed life on offense when running the ball. RB James Jackson got the ’Canes on the scoreboard, galloping for 44 yards for the touchdown. Seeing their opening, Miami’s offense continued to pick apart the Buckeye defense. Kelly found Santana Moss, who finished the game with 115 receiving yards on three receptions. TE Bubba Franks started to see some targets, as well as WR Reggie Wayne. Success throwing the ball led to Kelly being able to use his mobility, scampering into the endzone not once, but twice on bootleg/misdirection plays. Aside from allowing OSU RB Michael Wiley gain 69 yards on one carry, Miami composed themselves to shut the Buckeye’s top back to 81 yards on nine carries. OSU’s offense became so overwhelmed that Moherman was benched in favor of backup Steve Bellisari. Miami kept the Bucks in check, holding the offense to just 220 total yards, adding three sacks and two interceptions. Not a bad debut for then first-year defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
Turnovers aside, Kelly finished with an admirable 17 completions on 25 pass attempts for 245 passing yards. That ability to hit his playmakers at the skill position, as well as knowing when to tuck and run, helped Miami take control of the game for the 23–12 victory. Add the 83 rushing yards from Davenport and 102 rushing yards from Jackson, and the Hurricanes reigned supreme both through the air and on the ground.
Why Is this Game Significant?
In the face of sanctions, roster turnovers and an opponent that came into the game ranked three spots ahead of Miami (who was ninth in the country, according to AP), the Hurricanes went on the road and handled business as if it were just another game. Beating Ohio State is always fun for some reason—not as much fun as beating Notre Dame, but it gives ’Canes fans jubilant satisfaction all the same.
What’s interesting about the 1999 roster is that, well, it has plenty of parallels to the team that Miami has in 2018. Granted there are fewer concerns on the offensive line from then to now, but the talent across the rest of the roster has some eery correlations. However, this Miami team will need to travel to Arlington, Texas, and take care of business before any substantial threads are connected between what was and what could be.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!