This edition of Miami Hurricanes Games We Love features the 1991 matchup between the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles and No. 2 Miami Hurricanes at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Miami Hurricanes were off to a scorching hot start on the year. They were 8-0 and were outscoring their opponents 289-58 and winning by an average of 28.9 points per game. Dennis Erickson was in his third season as the head coach of the Hurricanes and had a record of 29-3 in that span. Miami had a lot of reasons to be confident going into this game, but the fact that they had won their last SEVEN meetings against number one ranked teams had to top the list.
Miami was led by All-Americans Leon Searcy (OT), Darrin Smith (LB), Darryl Williams (FS), Kevin Williams (KR/PR) and Carlos Huerta (K). That is not to mention eventual Heisman trophy winner, Gino Torretta, and guys like Michael Barrow, Jessie Armstead and Lamar Thomas.
Florida State was off to a hot start as well. They were 10-0, which included a win in Ann Arbor against the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines -- a game they won by 20 points in front of over 106,000 people. The big stage did not frighten them. Now, Miami was coming into town and Florida State was expecting another big win against a highly ranked team.
The Seminoles were led by two future top five picks on defense – Terrell Buckley and Marvin Jones. Terrell Buckley won the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back and went fifth overall to the Packers in the 1991 NFL Draft. Marvin Jones ended up winning the Butkus Award and the Lombardi Award in 1992 and went fourth overall to the Bears following that season.
Offensively, Casey Weldon (yes, the father of current Canes QB Cade Weldon) was putting up ridiculous numbers and was well on his way to winning the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, awarded to the most outstanding senior quarterback in the country. It was the same award that Miami quarterback, Craig Erickson, had won the year before in 1990. Weldon was also 15-0 as a starter at Florida State. Running back Amp Lee was another guy having a big year for Florida State
There was a lot of talent and speed all over the field for the No.1 ranked Seminoles, but Miami was built for the big stage. This was a game that was being approached as a National Championship game and it sure felt like one. 64,288 people filled up Doak Campbell, the largest audience there had ever been at that stadium, for a season-defining matchup with the rival Hurricanes.
Miami opened the game with a dump off pass to fullback Stephen McGuire who took it for 14 yards. That was all it took to get him going. On Miami’s third play of the game, McGuire took a handoff 29-yards to get inside the Florida State 15-yard line. It seemed like Miami would settle for a field goal when Torretta scrambled to the sideline, but he was hit hard out of bounds and the penalty gave Miami a fresh set of downs that they immediately capitalized on. McGuire punched it in and completed Miami’s 7 play 74-yard drive that gave them an early 7-0 lead.
Now the game was really getting started. FSU’s offense was ranked third nationally they had the ball now against Miami’s defense which lead the nation is scoring defense.
Penalties were hurting FSU early. A holding call set them back on offense after a roughing the passer and late hit gave Miami extra sets of downs on defense and eventually led to a Hurricane touchdown.
Rusty Medaris was an absolute force early in this game. He was held twice by his matchup on the FSU line and assisted with Jessie Armstead on a big sack on Weldon on FSU’s second drive of the game. However, the very next play Weldon dropped back and delivered a 51-yard pass to running back Amp Lee that put FSU inside Miami’s five-yard line. Miami had not allowed a touchdown in the first half all season and it looked as if that was over. But these are the 1991 Miami Hurricanes. They don’t quit on a drive. Not even after allowing a 51-yard pass -- which was the biggest play they had given up all season.
On 1st and goal, Miami dropped Lee for a loss on a hand off then forced two straight incompletions by Weldon, making Florida State settle for a 25-yard field goal by Gerry Thomas. 7-3 Miami with 5:15 left in the first.
FSU’s third drive of the game was single handedly shut down by linebacker Michael Barrow. He absolutely blew up a screen pass intended for Amp Lee with a monster hit on the Seminole running back the millisecond he touched the ball. This was a defensive battle -- no doubt about it. Torretta was just 2/7 for 19 yards as the first quarter was winding down and Miami was getting set for their fourth possession of the game, which was cut short due to a fumble by McGuire on just the second play of the drive. Florida State recovered the ball on Miami’s 24, giving them ideal field position and once again threatening to score.
Weldon dropped back and hit senior fullback Edgar Bennett, who took off up the seam from out of the backfield, for a completion that put FSU inside the five. This time it ends with a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Paul Moore – the first touchdown Miami gave up in the first half all season.
Gino Torretta’s struggles continued on into the second quarter, but the Miami defense kept the Hurricanes in the game. In the four drives since Miami’s touchdown, they hadn’t even gotten a first down. Penalties, a fumble, and Torretta missing open receivers all played factors into that.
It looked like Miami finally got back in rhythm. McGuire and freshman running back Larry Jones traded back-to-back first down runs and Miami was inside the Florida State 30. Then Torretta’s bad day got much worse when he threw an interception to Florida State’s star corner Terrell Buckley.
But again, Miami’s defense held it down. Florida State got the ball back but were quickly forced to a three-and-out after failing to convert on yet another third down. The Seminoles were now 0-6 on the day on third down conversions.
Torretta and the Miami offense finally started get going again a little over halfway through the second. Wide receiver Darryl Spencer caught a pass for a first down, Torretta converted a 3rd and four with his legs and then Larry Jones caught another first down pass. Things were looking bright until they weren’t. Gino dropped back and rolled out to the right and fired a throw that should not have been made. It was tipped in the air and eventually brought down by linebacker Marvin Jones, who was a Miami native, for an interception.
Then, finally, it was Casey Weldon who gave one up. Rusty Medaris exploded out of the left side of the line and was a split second away from blasting Weldon before the he threw up a floater that landed right in the hands of Miami defensive back Charles Pharms.
It’s late in the first half now and Miami’s star quarterback is just 5/13 for 60 yards and two interceptions. Apart from hitting Lamar Thomas for a first down, Miami was not able to do much against FSU’s defense. They were as big and fast as advertised.
Carlos Huerta lined up to tie the game at the end of the half, but it was blocked by the Seminoles and Florida State led 10-7 at the half.
Miami led in total plays, first downs, rushing yards and total yards at the half, but turnovers are what set them back. If McGuire never fumbled that ball, I am not sure FSU scores a touchdown at all in the first half.
On the first play of the second half, backup Miami linebacker Corwin Francis comes around unblocked on the left side and knocks the wind out of Casey Weldon. In comes future Super Bowl winning quarterback, Brad Johnson, for a couple positive plays, but Weldon came right back in – a testament of his will and resiliency. Weldon finally converted on third down and then proceeded to complete two straight passes to freshman wideout Kez McCorvey to put them in yet another favorable scoring situation.
Miami’s defense held FSU without a touchdown, but Gerry Thomas hit a 31 yarder to put the Seminoles up 13-7.
Later in the third quarter, FSU got the ball back deep into their own territory. Two big runs by Edgar Bennett and Amp Lee took them across the field into Miami’s 30. This Miami defense had to have been exhausted. The Hurricane offense was absolutely helpless and were quickly driven off the field on most drives. It seemed like Florida State was finally going to pull away. Weldon was playing at a high level and the running game was picking up good yardage every attempt. We were about to find out what this team was really about.
Florida State ended the eleven plays, ninety-yard drive with another field goal to give the Seminoles a 16-7 lead over the Hurricanes as the fourth quarter begun. Florida State outgained Miami 159-38 in the third and had the ball for over 10 minutes, but only scored three points. Miami was in it. They just needed to find a way to score. Torretta had two interceptions, Huerta had a field goal blocked and Miami punted the last four times the Hurricanes were well into FSU territory. They needed to capitalize on a drive and finish it with seven points.
On the ensuing drive, McGuire found a big hole and displayed his unique size and speed by bursting for a 27-yard run, giving him over 100 yards on the day. Miami was back into the red-zone but came up with just three points on a big 45-yard field goal by Carlos Huerta. 16-10 Florida State with just over nine minutes left in the game.
Miami quickly forced the Seminoles to punt with over seven minutes left and got the ball back on their own 42-yard line. It was do-or-die time for Miami. Despite trailing for a majority of the game, the Hurricanes were on the cusp -- if they could put together a touchdown drive.
On 2nd and 16, Torretta found tight end Coleman Bell who reached up and snagged the ball over the smaller FSU defender for a 21-yard gain. McGuire, who was Miami’s offensive MVP of the game, took consecutive runs for 8 and 17 yards to put Miami at the 16-yard line. This was their chance.
On 4th and 6, Dennis Erickson took a chance despite Torretta’s struggles. They paid off. Torretta fired a strike to wide receiver Horace Copeland, his first and only catch of the day, for a first down. On third down, Miami calls on the freshman and Larry Jones pounds it in for a touchdown. With three minutes remaining in the game, Miami leads 17-16.
Weldon now had a chance to march the Seminole offense down the field once again and lead his team to victory.
They were marching indeed. Weldon completed three straight pass attempts to get down to the Miami 46 and were facing a crucial fourth down with just 1:15 to go. The Seminoles called on Edgar Bennett who converted and then some.
FSU was out of timeouts, so this game would likely come down to field goal unless Weldon could make some magic happen.
There is one-minute left in the game and Weldon throws up a pass to the end-zone that resulted in defensive pass interference on Miami corner Ryan McNeil. The Seminoles have a fresh set of downs at the Miami 18. After Miami stops an Amp Lee run, Bobby Bowden decides to call on kicker Gerry Thomas for a game-winning 34-yard field goal. Thomas was 8 of 9 on his field goal attempts with a career long of 40 yards.
Brad Johnson takes the snap. Places it. For a chance to knock off No. 2 Miami and compete for a National Championship.
WIDE RIGHT!!!! WIDE RIGHT!!!!! WIDE RIGHT!!!!!
A game that was battled so toughly by both sides came down to a kicker, who was on the field for, roughly, a combined 25 seconds and he lost it. Gerry Thomas is a Miami Hurricane hero. This was undoubtedly one of the greatest games and victories of this programs history.
Despite Gino Torretta being putrid in this game, the Miami Hurricanes pulled it out and eventually went on the win a share of the 1991 National Title by beating Nebraska 22-0 in the Orange Bowl.