PASADENA, Calif. — Nebraska came to the Rose Bowl convinced that things couldn't get worse than the Rocky Mountain low it experienced 42 days ago at Colorado.
Miami showed the Huskers on Thursday night that they could. Oh, how they could.
The top-ranked Hurricanes ran away with their fifth national championship by administering a 37-14 thumping of a Nebraska team that ended its season with two losses by a combined score of 99-50. Miami followed up the 62-36 loss that Nebraska suffered Nov. 23 at Colorado with a dominating first-half performance that stripped the national championship showdown of its drama.
"They put fuel on the fire because they said they would not let Colorado happen again," Miami offensive guard Ed Wilkins said. "We just went out there and executed and played our game."
In many ways, the Hurricanes' performance was even more impressive than what Colorado did to the Huskers. Miami mauled Nebraska in building a 34-0 halftime lead, finished with a 472-259 advantage in total yardage and won the important turnover battle 3-1.
"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Nebraska offensive tackle Dave Volk said. "I don't think we panicked. We had things that worked, but they didn't work consistently. And you can't turn the ball over against a team like that and expect to win. It just doesn't happen."
What did happen was the Hurricanes ruined the night for the 60,000 or so Nebraska fans who had flocked to Pasadena for the Huskers' first Rose Bowl appearance since 1941. They hoped to see the Huskers walk away with at least a share of their sixth national championship.
Instead, the Husker fans in the crowd of 93,781, the most ever to see a Nebraska team play, were subjected to a performance that left Nebraska with its first back-to-back defeats since the 1990 season. The game also marked only the second time that a Nebraska team has lost consecutive games by 10 points or more since Bob Devaney took over the program in 1962.
The Huskers closed the 1990 season with losses of 45-10 to Oklahoma in conference play and 45-21 to Georgia Tech in the Florida Citrus Bowl. This season's 11-2 Huskers also gave up more points in the losses to Colorado and Miami than they had since allowing 115 to Minnesota and Indiana in consecutive defeats in 1945.
"Our players are not satisfied by losing the last two games, but that is what happened," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "The end tarnished the season for us. The only thing we can do is look at what transpired and try to prevent it from happening again."
Miami's championship was its first since the Hurricanes locked up national title No. 4 with a 22-0 win over Nebraska in the 1992 Orange Bowl. Ten years and two days later, Miami delivered an even more impressive performance against the Huskers to close a 12-0 season and remove any controversy regarding this year's national champion.
Oregon had contended that it — not Nebraska — deserved to be in the game matching the top two teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Ducks, who finished an 11-1 season Tuesday by clubbing Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl, were rooting for a Nebraska upset to possibly grab a share of the title.
Instead, Oregon will have to settle for No. 2.
With Rose Bowl co-most valuable players Ken Dorsey and Andre Johnson leading the way, the Hurricanes hammered out 34 points, one shy of the Rose Bowl record for points in a half. Miami averaged 10.7 yards on its 30 first-half plays, while the Hurricanes' ultra-quick defense limited Nebraska to 3.3 yards on its 36 snaps in the first two quarters.
"That was the best college defense I've come across," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "They are so athletic and have so much talent. They are very deserving of everything they get."
Crouch ended what ranks as one of the greatest careers by a Husker without the national title he so coveted. He produced 176 total yards-114 on 22 rushes and 62 on five completions in 15 passes. James Lewis intercepted one of Crouch's passes and returned it 47 yards for Miami's third touchdown.
Dorsey, a junior who finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind Crouch and Florida's Rex Grossman, got next season's all-star campaign started on a good note. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 362 yards-the most passing yards by a Hurricane quarterback in a bowl game since George Mira threw for 321 against Nebraska in the Gotham Bowl of 1962, when the stakes were considerably lower.
Johnson also set a Hurricane bowl record for receiving yardage, finishing with 199 yards on seven catches.
"I felt like I had something to prove today," Johnson said. "I brought my 'A' game. All my teammates brought their 'A' games. They are all MVPs."
Johnson put the Hurricanes ahead with 6:51 left in the first quarter when he hauled in a 49-yard pass from Dorsey, one play after Crouch had fumbled near midfield.
Dorsey and Johnson were far from the Hurricanes' only offensive weapons. Running back Clinton Portis gained 104 yards on 20 carries, one of which was a darting, 28-yard scoring run that expanded Miami's lead to 14-0 on the third play of the second quarter.
"Miami presents multiple problems," Solich said. "It's obviously very difficult to cover Dorsey, and they have excellent running backs. They get you in a bind."
Portis, who had rushed for 1,200 yards during the regular season, ripped through the middle of Nebraska's defense, eluding several tacklers and running away from cornerbacks Keyuo Craver and DeJuan Groce to finish the touchdown scamper with 14:33 left in the second period.
Lewis' interception, of a Crouch pass that bounced off Tracey Wistrom's hands, made it 21-0 less than two minutes later. On their next possession, the Hurricanes moved 66 yards in two plays, with Dorsey passing 21 yards to Jeremy Shockey for the touchdown with 10:40 left in the second period.
"It was an unpleasant feeling to fall behind at the beginning," Solich said. "We felt if the turnovers continued, it would be ridiculous game. It seemed like the game was slipping away, but we battled back in the second half."
Miami ended its second-quarter scoring explosion when Johnson caught an 8-yard pass from Dorsey to complete a seven-play, 55-yard drive 31/2 minutes before halftime.
"At that point, we had two options," Nebraska rush end Chris Kelsay said. "We could have put our tails between our legs and given up, or we could come back and give it our best effort. If we hadn't kept battling, this could have been an embarrassing loss.
"But we kept our heads up and kept playing hard. No one gave up."
The Huskers actually sparked some comeback hopes by scoring on a 16-yard run by Judd Davies late in the third quarter. Then they saw Groce rip off a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown 32 seconds into the final period. Groce's return, the longest in an NU bowl since Johnny Rodgers scored on a 77-yard punt return against Notre Dame in the 1973 Orange Bowl, pulled Nebraska to 34-14 with 14:28 to play.
The Hurricanes countered with a 59-yard, 11-play drive that ate four minutes and produced Todd Sievers' 37-yard field goal. On the Huskers' next possession, NU fell 15 yards short of the end zone on a fourth-down play.
"No one quit," Wistrom said. "We fought until the end. Their defense is solid across the board, and we made too many mistakes tonight. Miami would have beaten anyone."
The Hurricanes knocked off 12 straight wins, pushing its overall winning streak to 22. That's the longest in the nation and the second-longest in school history, behind the 29 wins in a row that the Hurricanes notched from 1990 through 1992.
Meanwhile, the Huskers limp into the off-season having seen what was once considered a dream season end with a pair of nightmarish losses. Crouch finished with a 35-7 record in games that he started, the best by a quarterback in school history.
"I've been able to do some unbelievable things here, and I'm very thankful for everything," he said. "It was very emotional, knowing that this was my last game. That's something that hasn't settled in yet, but it probably will when I get back home tomorrow and start getting on with my life."
Crouch couldn't finish his career with wins in what arguably were the Huskers' two most important games of the season. He'll move on, but the taste left by the losing to Colorado and Miami will stick with the Husker underclassmen.
"This loss is a hard thing to swallow," junior I-back Dahrran Diedrick said. "We strive to be champions. We're going to reload, and we'll be back again next year."
|Yards per carry||4.2||4.0|
Nebraska is 6-6 all-time against Miami (FL).
|Troy State||Sept. 1|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 3|
Nebraska hasn't played any other games on Jan. 3.
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