TIDE PICKS OFF NO. 1 SUGAR BOWL/ Alabama 34, Miami 13 2 intercepts in 16 seconds end Miami's reign in hurry


NEW ORLEANS -- While one dynasty was halted, memories of a past one were rekindled.

Bear Bryant. Alabama. Great defense. Conservative offense. Sound kicking game. Team of the 1970s.

Let's roll forward to last night at the USF&G; Sugar Bowl in New Orle- ans. Gene Stallings, a Bryant disciple, is the new Alabama coach. Great defense. Conservative offense. Sound kicking game. And the Crimson Tide beat the Team of the 1980s.

Not only did No. 2 Alabama (13-0) stun No. 1 Miami, 34-13, for the national championship, but it also was a rout. Miami had 326 yards of total offense, but most came in the final quarter. It had only 48 yards rushing.

"Miami players talked about a dynasty and tradition, as if we had none here at Alabama," said Eric Curry, the Tide's talented defensive end. "We have Bear Bryant and we have a tradition of playing great defense. They said they were better defensively. Who got your vote tonight?"

The Crimson Tide's defense, ranked No. 1, was great, turning two third-quarter interceptions by Miami quarterback Gino Torretta into touchdowns 16 seconds apart, and a 27-6 lead at the end of the quarter.

The loss ended Miami's 29-game winning streak and its chance to become the first team to win consecutive national titles with perfect records since Oklahoma in 1955-56.

Miami (11-1) also failed to become the first team to win five national championships in 10 years and the first to win back-to-back championships since Alabama in 1978-79.

Those 1978-79 teams were Bryant teams, the last to win national championships at Alabama. The one last night was about as close a replica as Alabama, which has won seven national championships, may get.

"I've coached some great defensive teams, I mean some really great ones, but this one has to be right up there," said secondary coach Bill Oliver, a former assistant under Bryant. "We shut down what I consider the greatest college receiving corps in the United States."

Torretta, who completed 24 of 56 passes for 278 yards and had three intercepted, never caught on to Alabama's defensive scheme. The Crimson Tide would put eight players on the line of scrimmage, then when the ball was snapped, drop several players into passing lanes.

Torretta never figured out which lanes. He also couldn't determine whether the Crimson Tide was in zone or man coverage. Sometimes Alabama would play with five, six and seven defensive backs.

Torretta was so confused.

"You could see it in his eyes," said John Copeland, Alabama's other great defensive end. "Once we slid from two deep to three deep, and he pulled away from center too quickly in the first half. That's when I knew we had him."

A team that lived by the pass died by the pass last night, especially in the third quarter.

Torretta's first pass of the period was picked off by Alabama left cornerback Tommy Johnson, who returned it 23 yards to the Miami 20.

Five plays later, Alabama running back Derrick Lassic, the game MVP 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, though, was jammed by Alabama cornerback George Teague at the line. Teague then stepped in front of Williams, intercepted Torretta's pass and returned it 31 yards for a score.

In a span of 16 seconds, Alabama scored two touchdowns and just about wiped out Miami's national championship hopes.

Kevin Williams scored on a 78-yard punt return to pull Miami within 27-13 early in the fourth period, but Alabama came back with a 4-yard scoring run by Lassic to finish a 12-play, 59-yard drive with 6:46 left to ensure its 23rd straight win.

"I said all week our intensity was good, and our players believed in what we were doing," said Stallings. "People kept saying we were an underdog, but I never believed that. I thought we were just as good as Miami."

Alabama dominated the game from the outset and took a 13-6 lead at the half.

Alabama controlled the tempo of the game with its vintage running attack led by Lassic. But the key to the running game was Alabama's ability to block Miami linebackers Jessie Armstead, Micheal Barrow and Darrin Smith, the Bermuda Tri

angle, who seemed lost within themselves.

The small but speedy linebackers were constantly crushed by Alabama's lead blocking fullbacks Martin Houston and Tarrant Lynch, as the Crimson Tide ran straight at Miami.

"They ticked off the offensive line by saying we were one-dimensional," said Lassic. "Once we got a couple of good licks on them, their talk was to a minimum."

The Tide took a 3-0 lead on a 19-yard field goal by Michael Proctor with 10:56 left in the first quarter.

The kick was set up by David Palmer returning a Miami punt 38 yards to the Hurricanes' 24. Alabama got as far as the Miami 3 before quarterback Jay Barker was stopped for a 1-yard gain on a keeper on third-and-goal from the 3.

Miami had a big play of its own on its next series as Torretta completed a 5-yard pass to Williams on a slant-in pattern and Williams turned it into a 34-yard gain down to the Alabama 39. The Hurricanes could gain only 7 yards on its next five plays before Dane Prewitt kicked a 49-yard field goal to tie the score at 3 with 7:49 left in the quarter.

Miami safety Casey Greer picked off a Barker pass on one of the rare times Alabama was forced to pass, and returned it 26 yards to the Alabama 39 with 4:19 left in the first period.

On second-and-seven, Torretta passed to Lamar Thomas on a quick middle screen. Thomas advanced to the Alabama 20, but had the ball stripped by Johnson and recovered by fellow cornerback Willie Gaston.

Then with 45 seconds left in the first period, Alabama started a 10-play, 46-yard drive that ended with Proctor's 23-yard field goal with 10:48 left in the half to put Alabama ahead, 6-3.

The drive was another showcase for Lassic, who had a run of 25 yards. Lassic also took a pitch and ran 10 yards to the Alabama 1.

Miami was called for a face-mask penalty on the play, too, but Alabama was also called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of first-and-goal at the 1, Alabama had a first-and-goal at the 15. The Crimson Tide could only get as far as the 6 on the next three plays.

Torretta, who hardly looked like a Heisman Trophy winner, helped set up the next Alabama score when his pass intended for Williams was way short and was picked off by Teague, who returned it to the Miami 31.

Four plays later, including a 25-yard run by Lassic, halfback Sherman Williams, behind the block of Houston, went off left guard for a 2-yard touchdown run that put the Crimson Tide ahead, 13-3, with 6:09 left in the half.

Miami scored on a 42-yard field goal by Prewitt as time expired to end the half.

Dominant defense

Alabama won the Sugar Bowl -- and with it the national title -- thanks largely to its top-ranked defense:

* Sacked Heisman Trophy-winning Miami QB Gino Torretta once RTC and intercepted him three times, one setting up a touchdown and another being returned for a score

* Held Miami without an offensive touchdown

* Held Torretta without a touchdown pass

* Limited Miami's running game to 48 yards. The Hurricanes averaged 120.5 yards

* Forced four fumbles

* Helped team hold edge in time of possession, 36:04 to 23:56

* Held Miami to 5-for-17 on third-down plays

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad