The Miami Hurricanes looked like anything but The U coming out of the 1997 season. Miami had suffered through the program’s first losing season in my lifetime after finishing 5-6 with a probation depleted roster. However, there were obvious signs of promise as a program with only 50 scholarships (compared to 85 for other schools) lost five of those games by an average of less than 10 points.
Heading into the 1998 season the ‘Canes showed promise. They had a solid young core of players in now legendary Hurricanes like Ed Reed, Reggie Wayne and Dan Morgan as well as a veteran presence from Scott Covington, Nate Webster and Edgerrin James. It was a rollercoaster season for the young ‘Canes. Miami lost in overtime to Virginia Tech by seven, and by 12 to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
The biggest disappointment, however, was a 66-13 blowout loss to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. I remember that weekend we were getting our Christmas Tree. Like a true Hurricanes fan I watched every last second of the 53 point drubbing. Like a true Hurricane fan I also got to fully enjoy the ‘Canes 49-45 win over UCLA on December 5th.
Much like the 1997 season, throughout 1998 Miami relied on running back Edgerrin James to carry the load. As a sophomore, James ran for 1,098 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1997. James had an even more stellar junior season rushing for 1,416 yards and 17 touchdowns in a backfield that also featured James Jackson and Najeh Davenport.
On December 5th, in a game that had been moved because of Hurricane Georges, Miami took the field as the underdog against no 3 UCLA. With James Jackson out on suspension James took the full load and carried the ball 39 times for 299 yards and three touchdowns to knock off the Bruins. The game winning touchdown came from the 1-yard line with 54 seconds to go in the contest and with the ‘Canes trailing UCLA 45-42 in the Orange Bowl.
With the heavy package in at the goal line, Miami ran a stretch blocking scheme and tossed the ball to James who bolted into the end zone for the winning score. The key block on James’ touchdown came from fullback Nick Williams who had caught the preceding play-action pass and ran the ball down to the 1-yard line.
Edgerrin James came to the Hurricanes from Immokalee High School in Immokalee, FL. The six-foot, 220 pound James was All-BIG EAST in 1998 on the heels of his performance against UCLA. The win over the Bruins solidified James as the fourth overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL Draft. James went on to be a four-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL while rushing for 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns over his NFL Hall of Fame caliber 11 season career.