MIAMI -- By the time Miami took the field last night for its anticipated mismatch with Nebraska in the Federal Express Orange Bowl, the rout was nearly complete in Pasadena, Calif. It was now the Hurricanes' turn to strut their considerable stuff in this photo finish for a national championship.
Top-ranked Miami knew it would have to be just as impressive as Washington had been in beating the Cornhuskers earlier this season, and possibly more dominant than the No. 2 Huskies were in their 20-point victory yesterday over fourth- ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
The Hurricanes were.
After a fast start, and a self-destructive, penalty-strewn second quarter, the Hurricanes did what had been expected of them. They passed over and ran through Nebraska for most of the second half en route to a 22-0 victory before a rain-soaked crowd of 77,747.
The victory was likely to ensure Miami (12-0) of at least a share of its second mythical title in the past three years, its third in the past five and its fourth in the past nine. The final rankings will be announced today. Going into the bowls, the Hurricanes held a slight lead on Washington (12-0) in the AP poll (the writers' poll), and were tied with the Huskies in the USA Today-CNN poll (the coaches' poll).
"You have two football teams and both won convincingly. Now it's up to the voters," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson, who should become only the second active Division I-A coach aside from Penn State's Joe Paterno with two national championships. "Who knows how the people are going to vote? I vote in the coaches' poll, and I'm going to vote us No. 1 and Washington No. 2. Don James is going to do the same thing -- vote us No. 1 and Washington No. 2."
But Erickson said that he can accept sharing the title with Washington if that's what the voters decide.
The defeat continued the postseason misery for the Cornhuskers. The loss was the fifth straight on New Year's Day for No. 11 Nebraska (9-2-1), which has been outscored by 90 points the past four years. It was the first time the Cornhuskers had been shut out in 221 games, dating to the 1973 regular-season finale.
Behind the powerful running of redshirt freshman fullback Larry Jones and a relentless defense that sacked the Cornhuskers' Keithen McCant five times and intercepted him twice, the
Hurricanes dominated. Nebraska's offense, ranked first in the country in rushing this season, was held to 169 yards, only 62 in the first half.
Jones, who moved from third-string to starter because of Stephen McGuire's knee injury and Martin Patton's arrest and suspension, gained 144 yards on 30 carries and scored one touchdown. Jones was named the game's Most Valuable Player and broke former Hurricane Alonzo Highsmith's rushing record for a bowl game.
"Every year since I've been here, somebody's gotten hurt and someone else has stepped in," said Erickson, who has been at Miami for three years. "Larry has played well for us throughout the season. He did a great job tonight. He played outstanding."
Knowing it had to match Washington's 36-21 win over Nebraska in Lincoln in late September, Miami stormed to a 13-0 lead in less than 16 minutes. But a rash of penalties (12 for 143 yards, including a holding call that nullified an apparent 70-yard touchdown run by Kevin Williams) and two interceptions off normally efficient quarterback Gino Torretta prevented it from being a blowout.
The defense played consistently well throughout. After holding the Cornhuskers to minus-1 yard of offense in the first quarter, and without a first down for most of the first half, Nebraska threatened to close its deficit in the final two minutes of the half. But McCant was sacked on successive plays by end Rusty Medearis to close out the half.
"They didn't show us anything we didn't expect," said Medearis, who finished with four sacks among his five tackles. "They tried to trick us with a couple of draws, but we shut them down pretty well. Offense wins game, but defense wins national championships. And I can tell you who has the best defense in the country."
If anything, Miami had things come too easily in the first 10 minutes of the game. On the Hurricanes' second play from scrimmage, wide receiver Kevin Williams beat cornerback Curtis Cotton, who slipped on the wet field, for a 36-yard game to the Nebraska 9. Three plays later, Williams beat linebacker Paul Wightman for an 8-yard touchdown.
A pair of 24-yard field goals by Carlos Huerta pushed the Hurricanes ahead, 13-0, but the penalties and breakdowns starting hurting Miami's offense, which didn't score again until a 1-yard run by Jones early in the third quarter. Huerta added a career-best 54-yard field goal to close the scoring.
"I wasn't happy with the penalties," said Erickson, who had little else, if anything, to complain about. "But we did what we had to do. Any time you can shut out Nebraska, you've played pretty well."