By knocking off Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic on Sunday, the Miami Hurricanes have that championship feeling for the first time in a while.
"We're good, we're very good," quarterback Kenny Kelly said after he threw for one touchdown and ran for another in his first start as No. 12 Miami beat No. 9 Ohio State 23-12 before a Giants Stadium crowd of 73,037. "But we have to go 13-0 to have the kind of season we had in the late '80s, and then I'll tell you Miami is back."
Even though it's just the first game of the season, the win may be the biggest for the Hurricanes since the school was hit with NCAA probation in 1995.
The three-year penalty restricted the number of recruits Miami could sign, and the school replaced coach Dennis Erickson with Butch Davis, who has spent four years trying to change the bad-boy image and build a team similar to the ones that won four national titles from 1983-91.
"This is a great way to start our season," Davis said. "We're 1-0, but we're not back yet. It's been a long rebuilding job and this is a nice step forward."
Davis said Miami's 49-45 win over UCLA at the end of last season told him the program was on the upswing. A win over Ohio State, an annual title contender the past four years, is an even bigger step forward.
"It's too early to say about this team, whether we're back," Hurricanes tailback James Jackson, who ran 44 yards for a first-quarter touchdown and finished with 89 yards on 24 carries, said. "We'll have to see what we do against Penn State and Florida State."
Miami plays No. 3 Penn State on Sept. 18, and No. 1 Florida State on Oct. 9.
Ohio State coach John Cooper is not used to losing so early in the season. The loss the Buckeyes first in a season opener since Alabama beat them in the 1986 Kickoff Classic reminded Cooper of Penn State's 41-7 rout of No. 4 Arizona on Saturday.
"Now I know how Dick Tomey felt yesterday," Cooper said, referring to the Arizona coach. "I feel the same way today."
Although the game was sloppy at times, with numerous turnovers and penalties, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Kelly overcame two fumbles and two interceptions and finished 17-of-25 for 245 yards.
In a 3:06 span late in the first half, Kelly ran 7 yards on a nifty bootleg to put Miami ahead for good, and then threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss with eight seconds remaining to give the Hurricanes a 23-9 halftime lead.
After his TD run, Kelly threw for a 2-point conversion and after his TD pass he ran for 2-pointer as Miami erased Ohio State's 9-7 first-quarter lead.
"I don't know if that TD at the end of the half was the turning point or not," Kelly said of his hookup with Moss, "but it put us up and it let them down."
There was no doubt in Cooper's mind.
"Their wide receivers made so many big plays against us, but that jumball just before halftime was the biggest play of the game," Cooper said.
Ohio State, which averaged 498 yards per game in '98, had just 220 yards against the Hurricanes with a new-look offense of quarterback Austin Moherman, wideouts Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo and three offensive linemen making their first starts. Also, it was the Buckeyes' lowest point total since a 13-9 loss to Michigan in 1996.
In the second half, the Buckeyes managed only a third-quarter 24-yard field goal by Dan Stultz. Miami ran 7:39 off the clock to start the fourth quarter, moving 79 yards on 16 plays before Andy Crosland missed a 26-yard field goal. Miami's Leonard Myers then intercepted a pass by Moherman with 6:24 left and the Buckeyes were finished.
Moherman, trying to step in for the departed Joe Germaine, the Big Ten's player of the year in '98, was 10-of-22 for 107 yards, one TD and two interceptions. But it was his backup, Steve Bellisari, who really put the Buckeyes in a hole. Bellisari came on in the second quarter. His poor lateral on his first series cost the Buckeyes an easy field goal attempt. On Ohio State's next possession, he fumbled the snap, linebacker Dan Morgan recovered and set the stage for Miami's two-TD barrage at the end of the half.
When Miami took over after Morgan's fumble recovery at the Miami 41, Kelly put the ball on his hip, ran a bootleg right and with nobody near him, threw a 40-yard completion to wide-open fullback Mondriel Fulcher, who was dragged down at the Buckeyes' 9. After a 13-yard completion to Bubba Franks, Kelly faked two handoffs, ran a bootleg left and raced untouched into the end zone to put Miami ahead to stay with 4:13 left.
His 2-point conversion pass to Jackson gave Miami a 15-9 lead.
After forcing Ohio State to punt, the Hurricanes took over at their own 22 and four plays later, Kelly connected with Moss on the 67-yard TD pass. Moss, who also had a 50-yard reception in the first quarter, took two steps back to catch the ball and then cut to the middle of the field, leaving cornerback Nate Clements on the ground and beating free safety Gary Berry into the end zone.
Kelly, who was 9-of-13 for 202 yards in the first half, ran for the 2-point conversion.
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