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Remembering BYU's upset of No. 1 Miami, 25 years later

By Jeremiah Jensen | Posted - Aug. 30, 2015 at 11:46 p.m.



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PROVO — On Sept. 8, 1990, BYU shocked the nation by upsetting the No. 1 Miami Hurricanes at what was then Cougar Stadium in Provo.

As the 25th anniversary of that program-changing game approaches, KSL sat down with former head coach LaVell Edwards, quarterback Ty Detmer and others from the team to relive arguably the biggest win in BYU football history.

"We've got 'em right where we want 'em," Detmer said as he recalled the game. "We've just got to keep getting after it."

Added Edwards: "Down deep, I expected them to come out and be a lot tougher. The lack of it maybe means we caught them a little flat. But we hung in there, and played great defense, really."

When you think of the BYU teams of old, you think of star quarterbacks and a record-setting passing game. But to beat No. 1 Miami, the Cougars needed their defense to step up — and it did, in a big way.

"What really stands out to me about that game is that our defense was the key," former BYU running back Matt Bellini said.

The Cougars controlled the line of scrimmage and penetrated from the backfield with Mark Smith, Pete Harston and Rick Wilson, according to team captain Alema Fitisemanu, a former BYU linebacker who now coaches at the University of Utah.

"I remember Rocky going in for a sack, Rich Kaufusi making tackles for losses, our strong safeties making all those tackles on the perimeter. And then there was Brian Mitchell going stride-for-stride with Randall Hill."

Kaufusi was the emotional leader of the team, and his play late in the game set the tone for the Cougars — remembered even 25 years later.

"Miami was driving, and they were on their own half of the field," Bellini said. "They had a fourth and 1, and went for it, and Rich Kaufusi stuffed them.


It was one of those unbelievable things, almost like a script out of Hollywood. The reality of it really happening wasn't all that great. Except that it happened — and that's one of the great things about sports and football, that there are some unexplained reasons why certain things happen. I gave up trying to figure it out.

–BYU head coach LaVell Edwards


"When Rich beat his man and stuffed their halfback for a loss, that really got the offense energized."

That led to one of the biggest play calls in Edwards' career.

"LaVell decided we were going for the win," Detmer said. "Let's go for it.

"There were so many key plays of the game, looking back. That was another one of those key plays where if you don't get that, momentum may have gone another way. They were a dangerous team, and they had some guys. But we were able to fight and claw and stay in it, then we made more of those plays than they made."

On the next drive, Detmer danced around in the pocket and eventually made two Miami defenders run into each other to evade a sack.

"That was a huge play for us," Edwards said.

But the defense won the game.

"They came up with some huge stops that fourth quarter that were reminiscient of the '83-'84 days where the defense rose up," Detmer said. "Our guys really rose to the challenge."

Ervin Lee intercepted Miami quarterback Craig Erickson in the end zone, but the play by the true freshman wasn't entirely surprising.

"When Ervin did that, he was doing stuff like that in practice all the time," Fitisemanu said. "But he was never the guy. Then he comes in, and he just did what he does in practice. Brian Mitchell was our guy, the fastest guy on the team. But because he was doing his job, they were going to go to someone else. They thought they could pick on this backup corner. And he came through.

"Everyone came in and did exactly what they were designed to do, and then came through."

The final celebration was a true team moment for the Cougars.

"So many people had to play well for it to go off like it did," Bellini said. "To sit there on the sideline and have it sink in that we had just beat the No. 1 team in the country, and to watch the fans storm onto the field, it was a real adrenaline rush."

Detmer had a slightly different memory of the stampede at the former Cougar Stadium, though.

"I just remember thinking 'man, I've got to get into the locker room,'" he joked. "The team's going to be there, I'm going to be the last one in, and I've got to get in there. I got up on the railing, shimmied into the tunnel … and I was the only guy in the locker room for about five minutes.

"I probably could've celebrated a little bit more that night. It was just an exciting feeling for the whole program."

Twenty-five years later, the moment still lives with everyone involved with BYU football — from the players to the coaches to the administrators, students and fans at Cougar Stadium on that September night.

"It was one of those unbelievable things, almost like a script out of Hollywood," Edwards said. "The reality of it really happening wasn't all that great. Except that it happened — and that's one of the great things about sports and football, that there are some unexplained reasons why certain things happen. I gave up trying to figure it out."

Jeremiah Jensen

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