The night Ty Detmer stormed the Hurricanes — and the play that ignited it
In the third of a series on Ty Detmer and the 1990 BYU win over Miami, Ty Detmer’s background of making plays all his life is examined in depth
Editor’s note: Third in a series on Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.
PROVO — On the electric night of Sept. 8, 1990, in Cougar Stadium, defending national champion Miami had no answer for BYU’s play called 69 HR option.
Miami’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the country the previous year, might as well have been asked to read a U.S. defense Defcon 4 codebook, or a Mandarin Chinese comic book. The Hurricanes had no clue.
“He was one of those guys that was really good and confident, but at the same time was a general on the field in the sense that we could try an ad-lib and it typically worked.” — former BYU receiver Andy Boyce on Ty Detmer
The play called for Matt Bellini to slip behind the defensive line seven to 10 yards, read the defense and cut left or right or just turn and face his quarterback. He could extend or cut off his route in either direction depending on the linebackers. Quarterback Ty Detmer had to make the same read and throw.
The trouble for the Hurricanes’ defense was 69 HR Option was run by a senior halfback who had perfected that one single play his entire career and a quarterback who had been taught to read coverages since he could ride a bike and had passed for 5,000 yards the year before.
Bellini broke BYU’s all-time receiving record held by Phil Odle, primarily running that play. Before Cody Hoffman, Dennis Pitta and Austin Collie held that mark, it was Bellini with 204 catches for 2,635 yards and 15 touchdowns, an average of 12.9 yards per catch.
After Bellini’s career, Norm Chow, the former BYU offensive coordinator, tinkered with inviting Bellini to come to USC and teach Reggie Bush how to run 69 HR Option. That invitation never materialized.
“I could run it in my sleep,” said Bellini. “I ran that play better than anybody ever has at the school. I don’t know why, but I knew every single detail about that one single play. I just learned it, all the nuances, and somehow it just became instinctive to where there’s a way to move your body to square your shoulders when you get around the line, and then you basically just read the two linebackers when they go off on their drops.
“If it’s a zone, then just sit right in the hole,” he continued. “You learn how far to go and what side to turn to so it’s not just like sitting in a hole. You learn how to find where the middle of the hole is going to be even though it’s not where it is at the moment, just by knowing the different speed of the linebackers and the way they move.
“If it’s man coverage, you just have to watch their eyes. Like, I’m coming out and looking and it’s man coverage, the inside guy is looking at me and covers me, then I know I have a slow inside linebacker and it’s a field day, usually to the outside. Then I’d set them up and bust it inside. It was always a big gain if I got inside, but you’d have to set them up for it. It’s the same thing with the outside linebackers and it’s usually an easier path to the inside.
“You just play mind games with them. If you know the linebacker is coming three or four times inside, you go outside,” Bellini said. “If he goes outside, you take it inside. Pretty soon, he doesn’t know where to move. I don’t know, it was just something I did well. If I’d been healthy in my career, it would have been amazing. I played my entire career with a torn PCL and my senior year with an ACL tear.”
Bellini just had one knee joint replaced in May and is scheduled for the other to be done June 15.
On that night, Detmer hit Bellini 10 times for 111 yards and a touchdown.
It was a game of cat and mouse, executed by two masters of one single play where their reads were incredibly in sync almost all of the time.
Miami got caught. They got hit with a system run by two elite experts at that level, the best in the country. And, as so many learned in Detmer’s career, he loved to play games within games.
Detmer is the only quarterback in BYU history to pass for more than 500 yards three times and Bellini was a big part of it.
A few months after the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce named Ty Detmer the Texas Football Player of the Year in 1986, Ty found himself in the on-deck circle, bat in hand when Southwest High faced Edgewood in the state playoffs. Edgewood, located in Central Texas is a region that produced Davey Johnson, Roger Hornsby, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Burt Hooton, Tris Speaker, Eric Dickerson, Kyle Rote, Tommy Kramer, Thurman Thomas and Tommy Nobis.
As the Texas football schoolboy star, Detmer had a target on his back. One of his coaches yelled from the dugout for Detmer to get ready to duck. The Edgewood pitcher looked at his catcher, wound up and sure enough, the first pitch came right at Ty’s left ear and he turned to the dugout and smiled. The second pitch came right at his head and he had to hit the dirt to get out of the way. As he got up, he again smiled at the dugout. The Edgewood hurler needed a strike sometime to avoid walking Detmer.
The third pitch came right down the gut. Detmer was a line drive hitter and specialized in doubles and triples like Don Mattingly. Baseball may have been his best sport. He could pick his field, his hands quick and instincts razor sharp from a lifetime of playing games of all kinds.
Detmer took the fastball and with a crack of the bat, the ball sailed over the fence, clearing a line of trees, over a house and into a subdivision. Edgewood’s players didn’t move. They just watched the ball disappear out toward roofs and driveways. The coach in the dugout measured the shot afterward. It was 470 feet. Southwest beat Edgewood that day, the first sectional playoff win for the Dragons in 34 years.
Football coaching legends Joe Paterno, Hayden Fry, and Bobby Bowden all agreed that one of Detmer’s greatest strengths was his ability to make a play and milk it for all it was worth. He was most dangerous when a play broke down and he improvised.
As a high school sophomore, Detmer found himself playing a playoff basketball game against Loredo, a powerhouse with a 28-2 record. The game was tight in the final seconds and Loredo’s players on the bench yelled, “Foul the sophomore, foul the sophomore.” And they did.
Detmer stepped to the line and nailed both free throws. Loredo made a basket on its end and again fouled Detmer. He promptly dumped in free throws on the other end. Swish, swish, swish. It seemed like a team against a player. He made nine and didn’t miss until the end as Southwest upset Loredo by one point. The Dragons needed a playmaker. They had one in the kid.
That same year, playing rich kids from Alamo Heights, the Dragons from the lower economic part of San Antonio found themselves down 60-42. Southwest had defeated most of the top 20 teams in Texas’ 5A classification.
Coach Mike Harris ordered Detmer and lightning-quick Maurice “The Jet” Brown to lead a full-court press. That led to a 62-all tie in two and a half minutes and the Dragons won in overtime.
His junior year, Southwest needed Detmer to compete as a one-man team in the regional golf tournament. Ty went up against the country club boys from Alamo Heights, the annual state champions. He hadn’t picked up a golf club in months. Detmer used his 300-yard drives to out-position the field and led the field for individual honors after nine holes.
Detmer always played the angles. In college, tough linebacker Bob Davis often came to the line of scrimmage in practice to tell Detmer he was going to kick his butt. Detmer would purse his lips, look Davis right in the eyes and make a kissing noise. “It cracked me up,” said Davis.
Detmer would often come to fall camp with a bag of candy. “There he goes, politicking to be captain again,” said a teammate. Indeed, Detmer became the first three-year captain BYU football ever had.
Miami got set up
Receiver Andy Boyce caught nine passes for 96 yards on Miami’s defense that night. The Hurricanes could not stop him. BYU hit Miami with Bellini, tight end Chris Smith and Boyce. Detmer had the Hurricanes’ defense guessing all game long.
“He was really a great person to ad-lib stuff,” said Boyce. “This happened multiple times when we’d come to the huddle and I’d tell Detmer the defense was sitting on 10 yards. We’d run the same foot pickups all the time and I told him on third-and-eight they’d blitz us. I’d do a comeback route at 12 to 10 and they’d sit on it. Ty asked what I wanted to do and I said we should run a corner route. So, Ty said if he tapped his helmet I was to run a corner. Ty would yell ‘163, check 163’ and tap his helmet and I’d run a corner route. Instead of a comeback, we scored a touchdown on it.
“He was one of those guys that was really good and confident, but at the same time was a general on the field in the sense that we could try an ad-lib and it typically worked. But if it didn’t, he’d go to bat for us and have our backs. This let us have the confidence we needed to play.
“We’d be on the road in stadiums and during TV timeouts we were waiting and crowds were yelling at us and he was cracking jokes and making us laugh. He was fun and really a fierce competitor as well.”
What Miami found that night was a gamesman and a playmaker who sneaked in more than 400 yards passing on them in a remarkable 28-21 win.
And it could have been worse.