How sweet it is! No. 1 Miami vs. No. 2 Alabama

January 01, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- Isn't this what everybody wanted? No. 1 Miami (11-0) against No. 2 Alabama (12-0). The team of the '80s against the team of the '70s. The Crimson Tide's defense ranked No. 1, the Hurricanes' defense ranked No. 1 and a half. Miami, with the nation's longest winning streak at 29 games, vs. Alabama, with the second longest at 22.

It may not be the "Game of the Decade," but tonight's USF&G Sugar Bowl between Miami and Alabama is at least the biggest postseason college football game since No. 2 Miami beat No. 1 Oklahoma, 20-14, in the 1988 Orange Bowl.

"The coalition worked," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said of the bowl selection committee's first-year effort to match the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams. "No playoffs, just one game between the two best teams for all the marbles. We're excited. Alabama is excited. The country is waiting. Oh, is this special or what?"

"I've been in three Super Bowls as an assistant coach. When I was at Texas A&M and we played Alabama and Bear Bryant, that was a pretty big game, too," Alabama coach Gene Stallings said. "Here at Alabama, Auburn is a big game. Tennessee is a big game, but for me personally this one has the most at stake."

But there's more to this game than winning a national championship. It's a chance for Alabama to add to its storied 100-year history, one that includes the glorious 25-year coaching career of Bear Bryant. Bryant's shadow looms large in the state, and many longtime 'Bama fans detect some of Bryant's mannerisms in Stallings, a former Bryant assistant.

This game is Miami's chance to add to its recent domination of college football. The Hurricanes can become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Alabama in 1978 and and the first since Oklahoma in 1955 and 1957 to win them with perfect records.

The Hurricanes also can win an unprecedented fifth national title in 10 years.

"We want our place in history, above the great Notre Dame and Oklahoma teams," said Micheal Barrow, Miami's starting middle

linebacker.

"They were great, and they gave us something to shoot for, but we want to become the standard."

All that stands between Miami and history is an Alabama team that was cut from the Bryant mold. Great defense. Conservative offense. Sound kicking game.

The Hurricanes are a team with a little different approach. Wide-open, pass-oriented offense. Great defense. Sound kicking game.

But here's the big difference. Alabama has good team speed. Miami has great team speed. Oddsmakers apparently believe the speed is worth an eight-point difference in Miami's favor.

"Speed gives them the ability to make the big plays, and that has put them over the edge against teams like Penn State and Syracuse," said Jay Barker, Alabama's quarterback. "We're going to have to find a way to neutralize that speed."

Besides speed, Barker and Miami quarterback Gino Torretta are two other keys in the game.

Alabama, paced by running back Derrick Lassic's 905 yards, is averaging 208.9 yards rushing. But Barker has been inconsistent this season, completing 132 of 243 passes for 1,614 yards. He has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (seven).

Alabama is expected to run straight ahead because other teams have failed to outrun Miami linebackers Barrow, Jessie Armstead and Darrin Smith on the perimeter.

Miami, if it needs to, will counter will eight players on the line of scrimmage.

"We are going to test him [Barker]," Miami cornerback Ryan McNeil said. "We don't think he can beat us. Our first priority is to shut down the run, and force him into passes he doesn't want to make. We need to confuse him and force him into mistakes."

Barker said: "They've got a great defense, but we're not going to change our philosophy now. I hope they don't think I can pass at all. That will be to my advantage. I expect to prove them wrong."

It's no secret that Miami lives by the pass, but traditionally the Hurricanes have had a solid running attack. Not this year. The Hurricanes are averaging 120.5 yards rushing. Torretta, despite winning the Heisman Trophy and passing for 3,060 yards, has been inconsistent this year, especially in big games.

But his receivers, Coleman Bell, Horace Copeland and Lamar Thomas, are as good as any in the country.

That leaves Alabama -- which has given up an average of 194.2 yards of total offense -- with basically two options: play more nickel defense or attack a suspect offensive line to try to pressure Torretta.

The Crimson Tide certainly has the weapons in defensive ends )) Eric Curry and John Copeland, two probable NFL first-round draft picks, who have combined for 21 sacks.

It will be an interesting matchup because Miami is expected to go with its three- to five-step drop-back package and use more of the shotgun formation the Hurricanes started using in midseason.

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