Alabama threw Torretta for a loss Tide mixed defenses, and QB didn't catch on

January 03, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- University of Miami quarterback Gino Torretta couldn't recall most of Friday night's game. He said the first half was a blur, the second, a nightmare.

"They were putting a lot of pressure on him, and they were moving to different formations," said Miami wide receiver Kevin Williams. "I don't think he was picking it up too well."

He wasn't picking it up at all.

No. 2 Alabama baffled Torretta, the Heisman Trophy winner, and shut down No. 1 Miami's high-octane passing attack to defeat the Hurricanes, 34-13, in the USF&G Sugar Bowl.

Alabama (13-0) was the unanimous No. 1 selection in both final polls -- Associated Press and USA Today/CNN/coaches -- released yesterday morning. Miami (11-1) was dropped to third in both polls behind Florida State.

"I had told the players the 1961 national championship team was a great defensive squad," said Alabama coach Gene Stallings, who was an assistant under Bear Bryant on that Alabama team.

"I've been in the pros for 18 years and may have forgotten. There may be others out there, but it's hard for me to see a better defensive unit than ours right now."

Stallings, a candidate to coach Navy before replacing Bill Curry at Alabama three years ago, won't get many arguments.

Alabama lived up to its reputation as the No. 1 defensive team, especially in the third quarter when two interceptions led to two touchdowns within 16 seconds.

But the scheme was different from the one used by Alabama most of the season and far different from that which most teams have tried against the Hurricanes, whose 29-game winning streak -- the nation's longest -- was ended Friday night.

In the past, Alabama would rarely blitz, and it usually lined up in its base 3-4 defense, challenging teams to come right at the Crimson Tide.

Against Miami, Alabama frequently put eight and, at times, 11 players on the line. The Crimson Tide either faked blitz or blitzed.

Torretta blew a fuse.

"No clue," Alabama strong safety Sam Shade said. "You could see the nervousness in his eyes."

Alabama confused Torretta even more by sometimes using as many as seven defensive backs (three deep on the last line). And when they crowded the line of scrimmage, Torretta didn't know whether the Crimson Tide was going to play zone or man-to-man.

Torretta completed 24 of 56 passes for 278 yards, but his zero touchdowns and three interceptions told the story of an offense unprepared for overcoming Alabama's search-and-destroy defense.

"Gino didn't play his best game," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said of his quarterback, who threw for 3,060 yards in the regular season. "That was obvious."

Alabama free safety Chris Donnelly said, "There were times he thought we were in man and we really were in zone."

Maybe more surprising was that Alabama cornerbacks George Teague and Antonio Langham came up to jam Miami's receivers at the line and then played them man-to-man.

Few teams can play Miami wide receivers Lamar Thomas, Williams, Horace Copeland and tight end Coleman Bell man-to-man.

Alabama did. The Crimson Tide knocked the receivers off their short routes, giving the defensive line time to pressure Torretta.

Alabama usually plays 70 percent zone defense. Against Miami, the Crimson Tide went 50-50 zone and man-to-man.

"We had heard Thomas on TV the night before saying real men play man-to-man," Teague said.

"Well, we were there. We're one of the few teams that can out-athlete Miami."

The Crimson Tide might not get an argument there.

Teague had one of the plays of the season when he ran down Thomas after a long pass, then stripped the ball from him and took it in full stride with 8:52 left in the third period. The play was nullified because of an Alabama offside penalty, but it was an illustration of Alabama's defensive superiority.

Alabama had stars such as defensive ends Eric Curry and John Copeland, who stayed in Torretta's face all game.

"I don't think they expected us to use seven defensive backs, but they don't have a very good running game, and we were able to do that," Curry said.

"On the first series, I got to Torretta, and I told him to get used to it. Like Lionel Richie sang, 'All Night Long.' "

Alabama's defensive prowess paid off early in the third period. Torretta's first pass was picked off by Alabama left cornerback Tommy Johnson, who returned it 23 yards to the Miami 20.

Five plays later, Alabama's Derrick Lassic, the MVP of the game with 135 yards on 28 carries, ran up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown that put Alabama ahead 20-6 with 10:12 left in the third period.

On Miami's next series, Torretta looked for tailback Jonathan Harris, who was lined up in the slot. Harris was jammed at the line by Teague, who stepped in front, intercepted the pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

In a span of 16 seconds, Alabama had scored two touchdowns and just about wiped out Miami's hopes of back-to-back national titles.

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