LINCOLN — Nebraska found out Saturday just how little position and statistics can mean if the points don't follow.
The Cornhuskers discovered that winning while coming from behind in the fourth quarter can be as much fun as beating Texas Christian, 64-10.
And they found out they can come up with the big play — supposedly a major weakness of this team — even if the enemy contributes two of the biggest plays when it hurts him the most.
Saturday was wring-your-hands day for the bulk of the 76,155 Memorial Stadium patrons. No sacrificial lamb, this Miami team.
Miami, long on pluck but short on a finishing drive, finally wilted under a field goal and two Vince Ferragamo touchdown passes in the second half. It ended 17-9, Nebraska, after the Hurricanes had led at the half here fr the second year in a row.
The tense struggle with the Husker lookalikes who are coached by former Nebraska assistant Carl Selner left Nebraska with a 3-0-1 record heading into Big Eight Conference competition at Colorado next Saturday. Miami is 1-2.
It may have been just the kind of game Nebraska needs, a hoarse, weary Coach Tom Osborne said afterward.
"This kind of game does a lot more for us than another TCU or Indiana (45-13 victim)," Osborne said. "It took a lot of character to come from behind like that. Maybe we were a little stronger."
"We're gong to have a lot of games like that from now on. It comes down to who's the toughest, who wants to win most, who has the most perseverance.
"I don't care what the point spread was (N.U. was favored by 23 points). That was a good Miami team."
Nebraska turned the statistics chart into a rout, with I-back Monte Anthony, despite a bum leg, showing grit with 109 yards rushing and catching five passes for another 60.
And Ferragamo, ever the cool one, passed for 264 yards and touchdown strikes of 32 yards to Chuck Malito to hike the Huskers to a 7-6 lead in the third quarter and 23 yards for the clincher to Dave Shamblin late in the fourth.
Ferragamo's 17 completions in 22 attempts accounted for his highest yardage total in two seasons. His best previous day was last week with 218 yards against TCU.
When the final figures were in, Nebraska had a 471-168 edge in total offense.
But the outcome was still in doubt —considering that a touchdown and two-point conversion would have tied it — until monster back Kent Smith recovered a fumble by Miami quarterback E.J. Baker on the Husker 30 with 1:25 left in the game.
"That was a bell-ringer, but we rang the biggest bell of the game on that play when Baker fumbled," said N.U. defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"I don't know who hit Baker on the play. I asked on the sideline, and they al said they did. There they go, that team unity thing again," Kiffin said.
Osborne applauded the defense. "I thought Miami was good enough to play within three or six points. Holding them to nine points isn't bad."
"To go undefeated." Kiffin added, "you've got to win some games in the fourth quarter. We have to win some close games on defense. You can't expect the offense to score to 40 to 50 points a game."
Saturday's game bore a resemblance to the 1974 Sugar Bowl against another sunshine outfit from the University of Florida. The Gators shut out the Huskers for three quarters before finally losing 13-10.
The Hurricanes kept their end zone unviolated through the first half when Al Eveland missed a 38-yard field goal attempt and had a 29-yarder blocked.
Miami, meanwhile, took advantage of one of Ferragamo's few miscues. Safety Bryan Ferguson stepped in front of Bobby Thomas for an interception in the first quarter and ran 52 yards before Ferragamo knocked him out of bounds.
Ottis Anderson, Miami's most successful rusher with 58 yards, fumbled into the end zone from the five on the next play but claimed it himself for the touchdown.
A bad snap foiled the extra-point attempt, and Miami went to the lockers leading, 6-0.
Husker sophomore I-back Rick Berns, who had fumbled at the N.U. 31 in the first quarter, tried Anderson's trick in the fourth quarter while trying to pad a 7-6 lead.
A 48-yard pass from Ferragamo to Bobby Thomas had set the Huskers up on the Miami six. Berns muscled his way to the one, the ball going the rest of the way. Cornerback Eldridge Mitchell of Miami outraced tackle Bob Lingenfelter to the ball, turning a touchdown into a touchback.
"The interception (that led to Miami's touchdown) and that fumble by Berns made a difference of 14 points (actually 13)," Osborne said. "Some days the breaks come, some days they don't."
Osborne attributed Nebraska's first-half offensive trouble to Miami's defense, which was overshifting at the line of scrimmage, fouling up blocking schemes.
"It was a difficult game to coach. A lot of things we worked on all week went out the window," he said.
At the half, the players, "were convinced they were physically stronger, but they were a little jumpy because of all the errors," Osborne said.
They were more at ease after their first offensive series of the second half. After driving to the Miami 32, Ferragamo called an option play, but noticed man-to-man coverage on split end Malito.
"We'd been setting it up the whole game. We knew from the films that they liked to go man-to-man in the middle of the field," Malito said.
So Ferragamo audibled a post pattern for Malito and floated the ball up the middle between Mitchell and John Turner. Malito easily turned it into the go-ahead touchdown.
After Berns fumbled away the touchdown, Miami set sail on a 29-yard pass from Baker to Phil August but finally settled for a 9-7 lead on a 51-yard Chris Dennis field goal. Dennis has kicked three here last year.
Nebraska was behind again with 12 minutes left when Miami chipped in two big plays.
On fourth down and one from the Miami 48, Osborne dictated a punt. Monster back Willie Jenkins flew in and decked punter Randy Lesman after the kick was away. The roughing penalty brought new life from the Miami 33.
Anthony was held for no gain on the next play, but Don Latimer was called for grabbing Anthony's face mask. Another 15 yards to the 18.
After defensive end Larry Wilson dropped Ferragamo for a loss on the third down, Eveland came through with a 32-yard field goal that ultimately amounted to the winning points.
But a 10-9 lead wasn't much the way Baker was throwing darts underneath the Husker deep coverage — when he could get tight end Dennis Jackson, split ends Mike Adams and August and wingback Larry Cain to hang onto the ball. Selmer estimated his receivers dropped seven passes.
So Osborne had his offense out winging on a 67-yard drive in the last four minutes instead of playing it cozy.
Ferragamo passed 31 yards to Shamblin on a first-down play, then went back to the senior wingback for a 23-yard touchdown with a 3:21 remaining.
"We felt it was there because of the type of coverage Miami was in," Osborne said.
Shamblin, who didn't have the fat part of the ball in his palms in the end zone, said he "held onto it real tight. I caught the wrong end of it, but it felt secure in my hands.
"We faked a slant to Bobby, and I went deep. Vince really laid it out there."
Passing in such a situation came as no surprise, Shamblin said. "We weren't putting the ball in the end zone on the ground, so we had to go to the air," he said.
Malito was ecstatic over the 264 aerial yards, with nine receivers contributing.
"There's no way they can cover the best three receivers in the country man-to-man. I don't care what people say, I think we have big-play people with Bobby, Dave and me. I think they ought to believe it now."
Shamblin caught three for 82 yards, Malito two for 39 and Thomas one for 48.
After weathering Miami's final challenge, Osborne said he was "not at all disappointed in our team. We're just awfully beat up."
Cornerback Dave Butterfield sagged against his locker trying to remove his sweat-soaked T-shirt.
"I'm beat," he said. "They were a very good team. But we sucked it up when we had to. We came from behind when we had to."
|Yards per carry||1.8||3.8|
Nebraska is 6-6 all-time against Miami (FL).
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 2|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Texas Tech||Dec. 30|
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