MIAMI — In a dramatic Orange Bowl finish Monday night, Nebraska went for it.
Nebraska failed on a two-point conversion attempt with 48 seconds left that would have won the game and the national championship. A successful kick would have tied the score.
Miami's Ken Calhoun broke up the conversion pass from quarterback Turner Gill to I-back Jeff Smith, leaving the inspired Hurricanes with a 31-30 upset victory over the top-ranked Cornhuskers.
With the win, before a frenzied crowd of 72,549 at the Orange Bowl, Miami staked its claim for the national championship.
Nebraska, despite falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter and 31-17 in the third quarter, may have just missed it.
Husker Coach Tom Osborne chose to go for a two-point conversion after I-back Jeff Smith put Nebraska in position to win with a 24-yard run.
"We were trying to win the game, " Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. "I don't think you go for a tie in that case. You try to win the game. We wanted an undefeated season and a clear-cut national championship."
A tie might still have been enough to give the Huskers the national championship, since second-ranked Texas also lost earlier in the day to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl.
With a tie, Nebraska would have finished with a 12-0-1 record. The loss put Nebraska at 12-1 and possibly out of the national championship picture when votes are tabulated today in the Associated Press and United Press International polls.
Miami, which entered the game ranked fourth in UPI and fifth in AP, stated its case with an impressive performance against a Nebraska team that led the polls all season.
The Hurricanes finished the season 11-1 with 11 straight victories after a season-opening 28-3 loss to Florida.
Auburn, ranked No. 3 in both polls before the bowl games, is also 11-1 with an early-season loss to Texas as its only blemish.
Miami Coach Howard Schnellenberger didn't seem surprised by Osborne's decision not to go for the tie.
"There was no doubt in Tom Osborne's mind, and there was no doubt in my mind, " Schnellenberger said. "It was a championship game, and he went after it like a champion."
In Sunday's press conference with both coaches, Osborne said he hoped he wouldn't face the decision.
"I hope it doesn't come up, " Osborne said. "I'll be crucified one way or another on that one."
It did come up. Osborne didn't think twice.
"I don't think any of our players would be satisfied backing into it with a PAT, " Osborne said. "I don't think that's the way to do it."
Osborne said he thought the play he called on the two-point conversion would work.
"I think we had the right play called, " Osborne said. "It looked to me from where I stood that Jeff Smith had a step or two.
Turner was under some pressure. The ball was a little behind Jeff. It looked like somebody got a hand on it."
Smith did have a step on Calhoun, who touched off a wild celebration with his contribution to the biggest victory in the history of Miami football.
"I guess it's up to the pollsters, but in my heart we're No. 1, " said Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar, who led the Hurricane victory with 300 yards passing. He completed 19 of 35 attempts.
Kosar threw the passes that helped Miami stun the Cornhuskers early. Miami took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter against a Husker defense that had given up only 19 first-quarter points in its 12 regular season games.
After Nebraska came back to tie the game 17-17 on Scott Livingston's 35-yard field goal with 13:09 left in the third quarter, Kosar again threw the passes that put the Hurricanes ahead 31-17.
"We thought they were a great football team, " Osborne said.
"They deserve a great deal of credit. They seemed to be a little more ready early and played better early in the game."
But Osborne said that after the first quarter the game's momentum shifted back and forth.
"We regained the momentum somewhat in the second quarter, " Osborne said. "Then again in the third quarter it seemed like they were the better football team. As the quarter rolled on, we gained the momentum back."
After Livingston tied the game, Miami regained the form that helped the Hurricanes to their stunning early lead.
The Hurricanes struck back with touchdown drives of 75 and 73 yards to take a 31-17 lead to the fourth quarter.
Miami regained its lead at 24-17 on a 1-yard run by fullback Alonzo Highsmith and padded it to a two-touchdown advantage when Albert Bentley scored a 7-yard run with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska made its comeback from that point without the services of its Heisman Trophy winner, senior I-back Mike Rozier, who left the game with a sprained ankle late in the third quarter.
147 YARDS FOR ROZIER
Rozier finished with 25 carries for 147 yards, a Nebraska bowl record, but he only got 9 of those yards in the second half.
Smith, a junior, responded with some great runs as Rozier's replacement.
Smith finished with 99 yards on nine carries. Smith's game included two heart-breaking plays the two-point conversion try and a fumble he lost at the Miami 2-yard line after a 35-yard run late in the third quarter.
"It came down to one or two big plays, " Osborne said.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't make the two-point play."
Big plays? How about Kosar's first of two touchdown passes to tight end Glenn Dennison a 2-yard pass with 9:18 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska cornerback Dave Burke stepped in front of Dennison in position to make the interception, but missed. It's possible he could have returned the interception all the way for a touchdown.
Miami's defense, ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring defense and No. 4 in total defense, proved as quick and muscular as advertised.
Miami didn't suffocate the Husker offense, which had averaged 52 points a game this season, but the Hurricanes did keep the Huskers from breathing normally.
Nebraska finished with 459 total yards to 430 for the Hurricanes.
"Their defense was excellent, " Osborne said. "They didn't have as much depth and they got a little tired, but they sure played well most of the game."
The Nebraska defense never came up with an answer to Kosar.
Osborne said one problem was tackling.
"We didn't seem to tackle very well early, " Osborne said. "As the game went along our tackling got better."
Nebraska tried some tricks in an attempt to win the national championship. Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska's Outland and Lombardi trophy winner, scored a 19-yard touchdown on the Fumbleroosky, the Huskers' famous fake fumble play they first used against Oklahoma in 1979.
In hopes of confusing Kosar's reads on his pass plays, Nebraska cornerback Burke and strong safety Mike McCashland switched jerseys for the game.
The way Kosar passed all night against the Huskers it didn't seem to work.
Miami stunned the top-ranked Cornhuskers, and most likely just about everybody in the audience of millions watching the game, with its 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
Nebraska's response, when it looked like Miami might turn this game into a blowout Hurricane style, was two big plays to keep the Huskers from falling behind by an even bigger margin.
The first came when Mark Schellen chased down Miami's Eddie Brown to keep him from scoring on a punt return. Brown reached the Husker 38 on his 48-yard return.
Three plays later, Nebraska cornerback Burke intercepted a Kosar pass that helped the Huskers two ways. It was the first time Nebraska stopped Miami in the first half and the Huskers capitalized for their first touchdown, Steinkuhler's 19-yard run on the Fumbleroosky.
It's the same play that Nebraska used successfully against Oklahoma in 1979 when guard Randy Schleusener scored on an 11-yard run.
Steinkuhler picked up the intentional fumbled snap and bulled his way around end. Miami defensive back Willie Martinez grabbed Steinkuhler at the 5, but couldn't stop him short of the goal line.
The Huskers trailed 17-7 after Steinkuhler's score with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
Kosar completed passes of 20 and 16 yards on Miami's next possession before throwing three straight incompletions.
The Hurricanes punted, and Nebraska got back into the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive.
Gill produced the big play of the drive with his 22-yard completion to Irving Fryar on a third-and-six play from the Miami 46.
From the 17, Rozier carried for 11 yards and five yards to the 1. Schellen gained nothing, but Miami was penalized for being offside.
Gill scored with 2:17 left on a sneak from the 1 to make it 17-14.
Nebraska trailed at halftime despite controlling the ball over twice as long as the Hurricanes in the first half, 20:37 to 9:23.
But Miami made the most of its opportunities, gaining 237 yards to 237 for the Cornhuskers. Most of it came on Kosar's passing. He completed 10 of 23 for 178 yards. Nebraska's answer was Rozier, who rushed for 138 yards on 21 first-half carries.
Osborne said in the six-week pregame buildup that the difficulties of playing Miami at home was like starting the game 10 points behind.
It got much worse than that quickly. Miami's 17 points in the first quarter almost matched the total Nebraska's defense gave up during the entire regular season in the first quarter.
Nebraska gave up just 19 points in the first quarter in its 12 regular-season victories.
The game's momentum changed quickly at the start. Nebraska's Rozier gained 27 and 18 yards on his first two carries, taking the Huskers to the Miami 30 on their first possession.
Then a fumbled snap by Gill on first down from the 30 hurt the Huskers. Nebraska stalled and Scott Livingston attempted a 45-yard field goal.
Miami defensive tackle Kevin Fagan blocked it, only Livingston's fourth attempt of the season, and Fred Robinson, the Hurricanes' other defensive tackle, recovered the ball at the Miami 43.
Kosar completed his first pass of the game for 23 yards to Stanley Shakespeare. Following an 11-yard run by Keith Griffin, Kosar threw again to Shakespeare, who carried to the Husker 1-yard line on a 20-yard reception.
It took two plays for the Hurricanes to score. After NU middle guard Ken Graeber dropped Bentley for a 2-yard loss, Kosar threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennison.
LONG FIELD GOAL
Miami's defense stopped the Huskers without a first down on their second possession and moved to a 10-0 lead on Jeff Davis' 45-yard field goal, his longest of the season, with 4:51 left in the half.
The Hurricanes made it 17-0 after Gill threw his fifth interception of the season on Nebraska's third possession. Miami linebacker Jacinto Fernandez, who replaced starter Ken Sisk who was injured on the first play of the game, made an acrobatic interception of Gill's pass at the Miami 35.
It took the Hurricanes just five plays to strike for their third score, a 22-yard pass to a wide open Dennison, his second touchdown of the game.
The Miami celebration lasted long after the game ended with players and coaches returning to the field to speak with fans over a public address system.
Nebraska, its 22-game winning streak ended and its national championship hopes jolted, left quietly in disappointment.
"I feel bad, " Osborne said. "But I'm thankful for the good things that happened. I'm very thankful to God for everything these guys did and the great people they are. This isn't the end of the world.
"As I said, football is a game and it is. The sun will come up tomorrow. We'll come back and play well again next year."
|Yards per carry||4.6||5.4|
Nebraska is 6-6 all-time against Miami (FL).
|Penn State||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 29|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 7 games on Jan. 2. See them all »
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