In this edition of Miami Hurricanes Games We Love, we have the 1988 Orange Bowl between the #2 Miami Hurricanes and the #1 Oklahoma Sooners. I want to give you a little background before we get into the actual game itself. In 1985, Oklahoma went 11-1 won its sixth National Championship with their only loss being a 27-14 loss in Norman at the hands of Miami. Then Miami was their only loss again in 1986 when the Canes beat them 28-16 at the Orange Bowl. Now, it is the end of the 1987-88 season and Miami is looking to beat Barry Switzer and the Oklahoma Sooners for a third straight year with a National Championship on the line.
Mind you, Jimmy Johnson had not won a bowl game as the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes and the stakes were high once again. Twice before Miami had a chance to finish the season off as National Champions under Johnson and failed.
The Oklahoma Sooners were absolutely loaded, per usual. Rickey Dixon had just won the Jim Thorpe award as college football’s top defensive back and alongside him on defense were All-American LB Danté Jones and DE Darrell Reed. On offense the Sooners were led by All-American TE Keith Jackson and OL Mark Hutson.
But it was game time. Steve Walsh trotted onto the field against a defense ranked first in points per game (7.5), total yards allowed per game (208.1), and passing yards allowed per game (102.4).
That did not phase redshirt sophomore quarterback Steve Walsh, who shined before a frenzied crowd of 74,760 people. On the first drive of the game, Walsh delivered a strike to Michael Irvin on 3rd and 9 for a gain of 13 yards to covert against a stingy Oklahoma defense. On the very next play, Walsh drops a beautiful pass right over the Sooner corner for a 30-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Bratton, who finished the game with 9 catches for 102 yards.
But it was the Miami defense that set the tone early by forcing an Oklahoma offense that was first nationally in points scored per game (43.5), total yards per game (499.7) and rushing yards per game (428.8) to punt their first five possessions of the game. This was back when Oklahoma ran the wishbone. It was like watching Georgia Tech on steroids.
Oklahoma would go on to tie the game with 11 seconds left in the first half on a one-yard run by Anthony Stafford that capped off a 15-play drive that lasted 6 minutes and 12 seconds. But it wasn’t easy. Linebackers Randy Shannon and Bernard Clark, who replaced LB George Mira Jr. after a failed drug test, were dominant against the Oklahoma rush attack.
At the half, the Canes were in a dogfight. It was a tied game, Miami led the total yardage battle 125-123 and Oklahoma had just one more first down than Miami did. Just a classic battle of two top programs giving everything they had to grind out a win and a chance to be labeled as the champions of college football.
Miami came out of the half and forced Oklahoma to a quick three and out. It was a huge momentum shift after Oklahoma’s grueling drive that led to a touchdown at the end of the first half.
It was 3rd and 9 on Miami’s first drive of the second half. Steve Walsh hits Brian Blades for a 14-yard gain to extend the drive. On the very next set of downs, Bratton catches a Walsh dump off pass to convert on a 3rd and 8. It’s crazy what the possibilities are when you convert on third down (slight shade). Those conversions led to a 56-yard field goal by Greg Cox to give Miami a 10-7 lead early in the third quarter.
The Miami defense stayed hungry. They forced Oklahoma to go three and out for the second straight possession of the half and took over the ball. Steve Walsh drove the ball down the field facing a 3rd and 15 inside Miami’s 50. Walsh drops back and hits WR Brian Blades for a gain of 11 -- making it 4th and 4 inside the 30. A field goal seems like the right call here. I mean Cox just hit a 56 yarder.
Jimmy Johnson calls a pass play against the best pass defense in the country and Walsh hits Bratton for a first down. On 3rd and 10 from the 23-yard line, Walsh throws a beautiful pass to Michael Irvin for a touchdown. 17-7 CANES.
In the fourth quarter, Miami was facing a 1st and 20 after a holding call. Walsh takes the snap, fakes the hand-off and rolls out to the left where he finds Melvin Bratton for a 15-yard gain and that is where his career as a Miami Hurricane ended. He was diagnosed with a torn ACL and meniscus on the play. At the time, Bratton was the Miami Hurricanes all-time leader in touchdowns.
The highlight of the fourth quarter was Sebastian dragging the Sooner Scooter on the back of an electric scooter that he was driving in the middle of the field. Not only did Miami celebrate in Oklahoma’s face, but our mascot was MIGHTY disrespectful. I loved absolutely every second of it. I can just imagine how that whole situation would’ve gone down in the social media age that we live in today. Anyways.
The Hurricanes and Sooners went back and forth for a majority of the fourth quarter. Both defenses were imposing their will. Miami finally got the upper hand after forcing Oklahoma to punt from inside their five-yard line which gave Miami good enough field position for Greg Cox to split the post for a 48 yarder to give the Hurricanes a 20-7 lead with just 3:41 to go. That was the dagger. Oklahoma would score on a desperate fumblerooski that brought the score to 20-14, but that was all she wrote. The Miami Hurricanes were National Champions and knocked off the Oklahoma Sooners for the third straight year.
The Hurricanes held the best offense in the nation to just 255 yards and forced them to punt the ball eight times. Steve Walsh was fantastic – 18 of 30 for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Bernard Clark was named MVP of the Orange Bowl after replacing suspended MLB George Mira Jr. due to his 14 tackles.
Miami also completed their first ever undefeated season and, for the second time, knocked off the top-ranked team in the country in the Orange Bowl just as they did in 1983. As a young Miami fan, this was the first time I have ever seen one of these games in its entirety and what made it especially incredible was sitting down and watching this game with my dad. His excitement felt tangible. It was like I had a time machine and I was sitting with my father as a peer and not as a grown adult. That is what makes Miami Hurricane football so special. That is what it’s all about. This is a family and games like the 1988 Orange Bowl make that bond possible.