The no. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks came into downtown Miami to face the no. 2 Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl to wrap up the 1987 regular season. Miami was working towards a shot at the national championship and the ‘Canes second consecutive undefeated regular season. Across the field, South Carolina was sitting at 8-2 after dropping early games to no. 20 Georgia and no. 2 Nebraska by a combined 16 points.
Back in 1987, Jimmy Johnson’s ‘Canes were running a pro style offense and a 4-3 defense. John Morrison’s Gamecocks were running the run-and-shoot offense and Joe Lee Dunn’s 3-3-5 aggressive defense. In what seemed a clash of styles, South Carolina seemed to rise to the trash talking and intimidating style of the Hurricanes over the course of the game. If the late 90’s to early 2000’s were the “Attitude Era” in the WWF, the mid 80’s to mid 90’s were the attitude era of college football. Nearly every play in this game ends with trash talking, a push or chest bump, and the referees having to step in between the players.
After coming out emotional on senior night, the ‘Canes were down 6-0 early after a turnover. Miami roared back with a 46-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin from Steve Walsh for the go-ahead score to lead 7-6. Irvin didn’t score that touchdown quietly as he started waving the ball at the Gamecock’s defenders around the fifteen yard line and held a party in the end zone after the score.
South Carolina and legendary wide receiver Sterling Sharpe answered Irvin’s score with a 47-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Todd Ellis. Miami put together a 78-yard drive as the ‘Canes set up for a 47-yard field goal but in Coach Johnson’s typical fashion Miami faked the kick. Punter Jeff Feagles ran for 23 yards on the fake field goal and Melvin Bratton punched in the touchdown run with force to go up 14-13 after the PAT.
Miami’s roster was loaded with future NFL talent and the wide receiver position was no exception. After Walsh had hit Irvin earlier for the score, he then hits future Seahawk Brian Blades on a 56-yard touchdown pass to put Miami up 20-13 after the Greg Cox extra point was blocked. The Gamecocks then made a field goal to close the score to 20-16.
The Hurricanes defense was stifling but had its holes as the ‘Canes notoriously went for big hits and tried to jump routes for interceptions which led to a few big plays for the Gamecocks. The biggest hit of the game was extremely controversial as Miami defensive end Danny Stubbs threw Ellis down after a whistle.
Stubbs maintained his innocence after the game saying, “I didn’t even know they had called a penalty... I didn’t hear the whistle,” per the New York Times. After Ellis was shaken up by Stubbs he threw an interception on the very next play. George Mira, Jr., who was one of the seniors being honored that night, recorded the game deciding interception.
In the end the Gamecocks finished the fourth quarter shell shocked. Ellis finished the night 1-of-5 passing and was sacked again by Danny Stubbs as Miami remained undefeated and set up the finale of the Hurricanes-Sooners trilogy on January 1, 1988. The Gamecocks went on to lose their bowl game to the LSU Tigers while Miami took home their second national championship of the 80’s.