LINCOLN — By the end, the guts of Miami’s defensive linemen had begun to sag. The owners of those stomachs were spent, drained, gassed, softened and glazed, a wall of noise from the biggest crowd ever to see a football game in the state hitting them almost as hard as Nebraska’s offensive line did.
That’s what a night’s worth of body blows looks like.
The Hurricanes wanted this fight, and even triggered a few scrums during the game that sent flags flying. But Nebraska finished, 41-31, with an old-fashioned power game, paced by a running back heading for the Husker record books and a run-heavy plan straight out of the 1994 season NU celebrated before kickoff.
Nebraska racked up 343 rushing yards — Ameer Abdullah ran for 229 on a career-high 35 carries — and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. NU ran inside and outside, out of the pistol, shotgun and Wildcat, with no tight ends and two tight ends. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck — who did not talk after the game — had a proverbial vending machine of running plays. Every button he pushed delivered a treat.
“Our running game is what won this football game for us,” coach Bo Pelini said. “That’s what Nebraska football is all about.”
And Beck apparently knew it would happen, too. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong told reporters that Nebraska saw “weaknesses” on tape that indicated if the Huskers used a no-huddle tempo, Miami’s defense wouldn’t always get set after successive plays. No ballast means no push. The Hurricanes might as well have been boats in calm waters, easy to steer all over the field.
“We knew they were going to get tired here and there, that they were going to get lazy and not put their hand down,” Armstrong said.
Pelini said Abdullah — who became NU’s career leader in all-purpose yards, passing Johnny Rodgers — “ran like a man possessed.” Abdullah joked that no, Pelini got it wrong. It was the offensive line that blocked like men possessed. After struggling to run the ball consistently against Fresno State and McNeese State, the Huskers (4-0) pounded Miami’s 3-4 front with a no huddle tempo and tight ends swooping around their teammates, walling off Miami’s linebackers and safeties.
How good was it? Nebraska passed the ball just four times in the second half.
“I told the backs and O-line: If we come off physical and hit them in the mouth, hit them in the mouth, we’re going to wear them down,” Abdullah said. “With our attitude and physicality, I really felt like we had the upper hand on those guys.”
Abdullah said NU gained the upper hand in the first quarter. But Miami (2-2) dragged the game well into the second half. It took a tipping point play by Nebraska’s struggling defense — a strip, scoop and score — to finally put away the Hurricanes.
That came late in the third quarter, when linebacker Trevor Roach — who replaced starter Josh Banderas after he’d missed several tackles — ripped the ball loose from running back Duke Johnson. Cornerback Josh Mitchell picked up the fumble and ran 57 yards for a touchdown that gave the Huskers a 31-21 lead.
“It was a back-and-forth fistfight; someone had to steal the possession — them or us,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
“That was pretty sick, that’s all you can say,” guard Jake Cotton said. “We go out there for (extra point) and I ask Roach, ‘Was that you?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ That’s just the kind of player Roach is.”
“That was my bad,” Johnson said. “I should have made sure I made it to the ground. That play changed the game in a big way.”
Until then, Nebraska had barely been able to corral Johnson, and Johnson would prove elusive after that, too, considering he touched the ball 23 times and gained 177 yards. But that single mistake ignited Nebraska back to life, as the Huskers scored 10 points on their final two possessions.
NU’s defense got a crucial stop, too, as freshman Josh Kalu picked off a pass from plucky, effective Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns, but also two interceptions in Husker territory.
After Kalu’s interception, the second of two on-field brawls ensued between Miami and Nebraska players. Defensive end Randy Gregory was in the middle of both; the Hurricanes’ offensive line spent much of the night cutting the All-Big Ten end. Gregory still had seven tackles and two sacks.
After the game, most of Miami’s players were hustled by coaches to the locker room — no midfield handshake — to a chorus of boos from the Memorial Stadium record crowd of 91,585. Just after Miami’s final touchdown, a Hurricane lineman was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after reacting to a booing crowd.
Pelini said the game “got a little out of control” but that Miami’s coaching staff did a good job of managing the situation. Both scuffles occurred closer to the Hurricanes’ bench than Nebraska’s.
“The game of football is about passion,” Abdullah said. “It’s better to put it on the field than put it in words. We definitely put it on the field and out-produced them.”
|Yards per carry||3.3||6.4|
Nebraska is 6-6 all-time against Miami (FL).
|Florida Atlantic||Aug. 30|
|McNeese State||Sept. 6|
|Fresno State||Sept. 13|
|Miami (FL)||Sept. 20|
|Michigan State||Oct. 4|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 20. See them all »
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