Photo courtesy of BYU athletics
Throughout its history, BYU has knocked off its fair share of Goliaths.
Only once however, have the Cougars knocked the nation’s No. 1 team. It happened on this day three decades ago as BYU stunned Miami in the Hurricanes’ season opener, 28-21.
Setting the Stage
Led by quarterback Ty Detmer, BYU was coming off a 10-win season and a WAC championship in 1989. The Cougars opened the 1990 season under LaVell Edwards with a 30-10 win over UTEP as they prepared for their home opener on Sept. 8, 1990.
Miami was playing its first game as reigning national champions. The top-ranked Hurricanes had finished 11-1 in 1989 under first-year coach Dennis Erickson. Miami closed the year with wins over No. 1 Notre Dame and then No. 7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Miami was loaded with talent to include defensive tackle Russell Maryland and linebacker Maurice Crum. When all was said and done in Provo, Detmer and the 16th-ranked Cougars were just a little bit better.
A 32-yard field goal by kicker Earl Kauffman was the difference as BYU took a 17-14 lead to the locker room. Miami traded touchdowns runs from Stephen McGuire with touchdown passes from Detmer for BYU.
It didn’t take long into the second half before the Hurricanes went back in front, however. Leonard Conley’s 5-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter gave Miami a 21-17 lead.
After Kauffman’s second field goal cut the lead to one, BYU went ahead for good with about three minutes to play in the third. Following a stop on 4th-and-short from the BYU defense inside the Miami 45-yard-line, Detmer’s third touchdown pass of the day found the arms of Mike Salido. Andy Boyce, who caught a touchdown from Detmer earlier in the game, hauled in the 2-point conversion to extend the lead to seven.
Miami had its chances in the final quarter. BYU turned the ball over five times in the contest, but with the game on the line, the Hurricanes returned the favor.
Twice in the final period, Miami marched into the red zone, but each occasion ended in a turnover. After Alema Fitisemanu recovered a Miami fumble, Ervin Lee intercepted Miami’s Craig Erickson in the end zone. The Hurricanes marched inside the BYU 30-yard-line on their final drive of the game, but Lee knocked away a throw into the end zone on fourth down.
In the victory, Detmer put on a show. The junior quarterback passed for 406 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Matt Bellini led the Cougars with 10 catches for 111 yards receiving and a score.
Erickson passed for 299 yards in the defeat with an interception. Lamar Thomas caught nine passes for a game-high 125 yards in the loss. Defensively, Crum finished with nine tackles and an interception for the Hurricanes.
Detmer’s 406-yard performance would serve as a signature moment as the signal caller went on to win the Heisman Trophy. The Cougars would go on to finish 10-3 and win the WAC for a second straight season.
For Miami, the loss would serve as one of two blemishes. The Hurricanes would fall at Notre Dame later in what would be a 10-2 season. Miami ended the year with a blowout win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl to finish No. 3 in the final polls — its fifth straight top-5 finish.
It would be 19 years later before BYU defeated another top-5 team. That came in a 14-13 win over No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2009 season opener in Dallas. The lone win over a No. 1 team however, came on this day three decades ago.