Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 13 days away. To go along with the countdown to kickoff, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Wildcat football history.
SCORE: No. 1 Miami Hurricanes 8, Arizona Wildcats 7
DATE: Sept. 26, 1992
SITE: Orange Bowl, Miami, 47,049 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: This is the game that introduced the “Desert Swarm” defense to the nation and generated a strong wave of success in the program under Dick Tomey, similar to how the Wildcats emerged on to the national scene under Larry Smith after upsetting No. 1 USC and Marcus Allen in Los Angeles in 1981.
Although Arizona was on probation in 1983 and 1984, the Wildcats’ shocker over the Trojans helped manifest a winning attitude in the program that led to “The Streak” against ASU and ultimately produced a 17-6-1 record in Smith’s final two years in 1985 and 1986. After the UA’s surprising near-upset of top-ranked Miami — it was a 28-point underdog and Miami was riding a 47-game winning streak at the Orange Bowl — the Wildcats enjoyed their most successful run in school history to that point.
They dominated No. 1 Washington in Tucson with a 16-3 win, which culminated a five-game winning streak after the loss to Miami. In the following season, the UA had a 10-2 record, capped by a 29-0 drubbing of the Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl.
The root of Arizona’s success at Miami that late September day in 1992 can be traced to meetings Tomey had with his players after the Wildcats tied hapless Oregon State (1-9-1 that season) the week before they departed to Miami.
In the two days following the game with the Beavers, Tomey said he spent “20 hours” talking to each player individually.
From the Press Box — Brad Allis, AllSportsTucson.com writer and longtime Tucson sports journalist and radio personality
“The game was taped delayed and I stayed away from the score all day, despite working all day in a news/talk/sports radio station. I did not hear a score, but knew something was up because there was a buzz around the dorm. There are so many aspect of this game, the Swarm at its finest, having to start Heath Bray at quarterback, the early safety. But in the end it comes down to the field goal. The Wildcats moved down field, but once again got conservative and it was going to be a tough kick in what was described as heavy air. It will always be a ‘what if?’ game but without it, who knows if the teams that would follow over the next few year?”
“I got eyeball-to-eyeball with them,`” Tomey is quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune. “I wanted them to get the sense that I believed in them. We were all hurting at the time. It made me feel better. Whether it had to do with the turnaround, I don`t know.”
Miami’s arrogance also fueled Arizona’s drive. AllSportsTucson.com’s Anthony Gimino was at the game in Miami covering it for The Arizona Daily Star. He wrote in 2006 for the Tucson Citizen an article that recounted UA players Heath Bray and Josh Miller getting the cold shoulder from Miami captains Jessie Armstead and Kevin Williams when they tried to shake their hands after the coin toss.
“They came out and they looked at the ground and put their hands behind their backs when it came time to shake hands,” Bray told Gimino. “(Former UA players) Ty Parten and Charlie Camp saw that and they came bounding off the sideline, and the whole team gets right behind us, and from that point on, it was game on.”
The teams faced off against each other near midfield. The Wildcats did not back down to the mighty “U”, as Miami is called because of its helmet logo. Former UA offensive lineman Eric Johnson remembered Parten giving a pregame players-only speech that riled up the Cats.
“He gave the pregame players-only scream down,” Johnson wrote in a thread at UASports.net a few years ago. “When we left that room, we knew it was gonna be a war.”
The Desert Swarm was born and Miami — which gained only two yards on 22 carries — bore the brunt of its awakening. The Wildcats led 7-2 at halftime, and had a chance to win it, but sophomore Steve McLaughlin just missed wide right on a 51-yard attempt as time ran out.
“They think they put on their clothes a little differently and that they have an ‘S’ on their chest. Sorry, pal,” Wildcat quarterback George Malauulu said in an Associated Press article. “They’re not the No. 1 team. If they were, they’d have blown us out.”
Gimino quoted Armstead as saying after the game: “Anybody who knows football knows we got outplayed.”
When Arizona led 7-2 at the half, the 47,049 fans in attendance acknowledged the Hurricanes’ performance with boos.
Using a ball-control running game the Wildcats ran for 170 yards on 50 attempts. The Wildcats controlled the ball for nearly 35 minutes and gained an average of 4 yards per play. They passed for only 86 yards.
The Hurricanes seemed to be in for an easy afternoon when Miami All-American defensive end Rusty Medearis — who later suffered a season-ending knee injury in the game — stuffed Chuck Levy in the end zone for a safety on Arizona’s second possession.
Miami’s offense never really got on track. Hurricanes wide receiver Lamar Thomas shoved a defensive back on the next series, resulting in a penalty that pushed the Hurricanes out of field-goal range. Miami’s Dane Prewitt missed wide left from 28 yards on the next possession and from 37 yards on the one after that. An interception within Arizona territory stopped Miami’s last possession of the half.
Arizona scored its only touchdown on an 80-yard, 10-play drive dominated by the run. The Wildcats rushed nine times, culminating on Billy Johnson’s nine-yard touchdown run.
RELATED: Arizona’s Top 10 moral victories in the history of the program
Miami’s only touchdown — the game’s final points — came on Gino Torretta’s two-yard pass to Dietrich Clausell with 3:50 to play in the third quarter.
Arizona, starting its last possession with 3:38 left in the game, drove the ball from its 35 to the Miami 35. After a quarterback sneak by Malauulu, McLaughlin lined up for his 51-yard attempt that barely missed. He also missed a 44-yarder with 21 seconds to play in Arizona’s tie the week earlier against Oregon State.
“If you take too much consolation in coming close, you just come close,” Tomey said in the AP article of the game. “Right now, none of us feels very good.”
The same could have been said of Miami, which came away embarrassed in more ways than one. During the celebration of McLaughlin’s miss, Miami’s mascot, Ibis, fell and injured his leg.
Miami bounced back and did not lose in the regular season — achieving an 11-0 record under Dennis Erickson — before losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Wildcats finished 6-5-1, losing three consecutive games after the magical five-game winning streak after the near victory over Miami. In those last three losses, however, the UA lost by a combined total of only 13 points to USC (14-7), ASU (7-6) and Baylor (20-15, in the Sun Bowl).
“We knew we had a team that could play with anybody, anywhere,” Malauulu told Gimino. “I really think it was the fact that we believed everybody was going to do their job in crunch time, that somebody would make something happen. Everybody at some point in time will have a chance to make a difference, everybody can contribute in a special way.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.