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Game of the Year of the Day, 1988: Miami 44, LSU 3

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Jimmy Johnson’s 1988 Miami Hurricanes: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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Miami athletics

The date: November 19, 1988

The matchup: No. 3 Miami (7-1) at No. 11 LSU (7-2)

The stakes: Miami still has a shot at the national title despite a loss at Notre Dame, and LSU is looking to secure its second straight top-10 finish under Mike Archer. Plus, there’s this: Miami and LSU are playing in mid-November! That’s fantastic!

The back story: This may have been Miami’s most vengeful team. It might have been the best, too. The Hurricanes began the 1988 season by pummeling preseason No. 1 Florida State in the Orange Bowl, and after the infamous “Catholics vs. Convicts” loss to Notre Dame, they had destroyed three overmatched opponents (Cincinnati, ECU, Tulsa) by a combined 122-13. This team had Cleveland Gary and Leonard Conley in the backfield, and it had Gary, Andre Brown, Dale Dawkins, Pete Chudzinski, and Randal Hill catching passes from Steve Walsh.

On defense, the Canes would allow just 9.7 points per game. They were led by Bubba McDowell in the secondary and end Bill Hawkins up front. From a pure name recognition standpoint, this wasn’t the most star-studded squad. But the Canes were devastating.

LSU wasn’t exactly chopped liver. The Tigers were led by Tommy Hodson at quarterback and All-American Greg Jackson in the defensive backfield. They had lost only at Ohio State and at No. 17 Florida, and they had taken down No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 18 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and No. 4 Auburn in the legendary earthquake game. Miami was an eight-point favorite heading into the game, but Death Valley at night? That can be intimidating. And LSU wasn’t going to be cowed by Miami’s aura.

Okay, maybe the Tigers would be cowed.

The game:

BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU's Tiger Stadium is known as the noisiest place in college football.

Not last night.

The Miami Hurricanes hushed up Louisiana State fans early and then permanently on the way to a 44-3 victory shown nationally on ESPN.

"I think we did an excellent job in all phases of the game," said Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson.

The third-ranked Hurricanes (8-1) ventured into a stadium known as the toughest playing site in college football and held LSU without a touchdown.

The 11th ranked LSU Tigers (7-3) misery index was heightened by a gulleywasher that drenched the 79,528 fans in Tiger Stadium, the fourth largest home crowd in LSU history. The 34-point loss was the worst at home for LSU since losing 46-0 to Tulane in 1948. [...]

It didn't take Miami long to show LSU who was the boss. Miami led 17-0 15:08 into the game.

The Hurricanes scored on their first two possessions. The Tigers failed to get a first down on their first three possessions and four of their first five.

Nobody went into F*** You mode better than Johnson's Hurricanes, and they showed it here, just as they had against FSU and just as they would against No. 6 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl a few weeks later.

The box score:

Granted, this wasn't a complete destruction until late in the game when LSU fell apart. It was 20-3 heading into the fourth quarter when LSU muffed a punt, which set up one short-field score, then Roland Smith took an interception 47 yards to the house.

Still, Miami neutralized Death Valley almost immediately and then just bided its time. And when you fell apart against the Canes, things quickly got out of hand.

This game and the Orange Bowl were the last grand statements from Johnson and the Canes. They wouldn’t get a second shot at Notre Dame. From 50 Best*:

Miami almost stumbled on Thanksgiving weekend. The Hurricanes held No. 8 Arkansas to just 186 total yards, but the Razorbacks timed those yards well, gaining 153 of them on two scoring drives to give them a 16-15 lead deep into the fourth quarter. It took a 20-yard Huerta field goal (after a near interception in the end zone) to bail the Hurricanes out. But it was the last close call of the year. Miami stomped BYU 41-17 to finish the regular season 10-1, then dominated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, allowing only 135 yards and winning, 23-3.

Given a rematch with Notre Dame, Miami would have almost certainly been favored, but there weren’t too many rematches in college football in those days. Instead, the Hurricanes had to settle for furthering their brand and remaining the most dominant, scary team in college football. It took seven turnovers (six of them legitimate) for the eventual national champion to beat them at home. Only six giveaways probably wouldn’t have done the job.

Miami lost Johnson to the Dallas Cowboys that offseason but hired Dennis Erickson and kept winning. As the NCAA created rules to more significantly punish teams for celebrating and taunting the way Miami tended to, the Hurricanes became a little bit more volatile. Still, they would win the national title again in 1989 and 1991. Eventually the dynasty would crumble for the same reason Oklahoma’s did: NCAA sanctions.