Like Canes before them, Huskers are able

January 03, 1996|By John Eisenberg

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If the Nebraska Cornhuskers looked familiar in blowing out Florida to win their second straight national championship last night in the Fiesta Bowl, there was a reason.

After spending years as the best team in the country to lose the big game every year, the Cornhuskers have reinvented themselves as the Miami Hurricanes of the '90s.

Remember those Miami teams that dominated college football for a decade? The Cornhuskers have become a mirror image.

They have unmatched speed. They physically intimidate their opponents, particularly on defense. They have playmakers all over the field. They have daunting self-confidence.

"I think they fully expected to win tonight," coach Tom Osborne said.

Why, the Cornhuskers even have the criminal element for which the Hurricanes were famous in the '80s. Isn't that special?

Different decade, different school, different players, same team.

The only things missing are the macho strutting and out-of-hand trash talking on which Miami thrived. Osborne won't allow it.

Otherwise, the teams are identical. Just change the colors from Miami's orange and green to Nebraska's red and white. Just change the names from Miami's Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin and Jerome Brown to Nebraska's Osborne, Tommie Frazier and Jared Tomich.

The Cornhuskers' wipeout of Florida last night bore such a resemblance to a vintage Miami performance that it was eerie.

In the memorable 1991 Cotton Bowl against Texas, the Hurricanes won the game on the opening kickoff when they flattened the Longhorns' return man on the 10-yard-line. Knocked him out. Cold. Texas was completely intimidated and lost by 43 points.

Last night, the knockout came a little later than the opening kickoff -- early in the second quarter -- but the result was the same. Florida was completely intimidated and set up for a blowout long before the final gun.

The knockout came after Nebraska had regained the lead at 13-10. (Florida had 3-0 and 10-6 leads early.) The famous Florida passing game had moved the ball relatively well despite steady pressure.

No more. A holding penalty and a false start put the Gators in a first-and-28 hole at their 4. Nebraska blitzed eight men and trapped quarterback Danny Wuerffel in the end zone. He managed to escape to the 1 but was buried deep in the end zone by the same blitz on the next play. Safety.

Those two plays changed the game's tone. Instead of exchanging offensive bursts, Florida suddenly was on the defensive.

The Cornhuskers drove to a touchdown and a 22-10 lead on the next series, then kicked off to the Gators and, following the Hurricanes model to the letter, wiped out return man Jacquez Green at the 12-yard-line, setting off a wild celebration on the bench.

Green caught a cleat in the turf and dislocated his hip, a serious and unfortunate injury. But the Cornhuskers had succeeded in completely intimidating the Gators.

After that, the Cornhuskers demoralized Florida with sheer physical superiority. Their pass rushers were quicker and tougher than Florida's blockers, resulting in seven sacks of Wuerffel. Their runners were quicker than Florida's defenders. The first Florida tacklers to the ball seldom brought the runner down.

"We had trouble tackling anybody carrying the ball," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said.

Frazier broke six tackles alone on a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. If you didn't see it, check out the highlights. You won't believe it.

In the end, the Cornhuskers engineered a complete physical and mental destruction of a Florida team that hadn't come close to losing before last night.

The Gators' Southeastern Conference opponents surely relished the sight of the cocky Spurrier getting embarrassed. But they should wonder what it says about them that they can't touch the Gators and the Gators couldn't touch Nebraska.

"Better team, better coaching, better everything," Spurrier said of Nebraska.

Much better defense.

The Gators made it this far on the strength of their creative passing offense, but last night's game came down to more fundamental issues. Blocking and tackling was the difference. As it is in most games.

Miami's most intimidating, dominating teams couldn't have done any better.

It was the Hurricanes who set into motion the events that led to the creation of this team. Three Orange Bowl losses to the Hurricanes, the last two by a combined 45-3 score, convinced Osborne that his plodding teams weren't fast enough to win a national title. Three other bowl losses to Florida State helped drive the point home.

Osborne underwent a philosophy change, shifting his emphasis from power to speed. It has gone fairly well. If not for a last-minute field goal by Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl, the Cornhuskers would be sitting on three straight national titles today.

"No one will doubt us anymore," defensive tackle Christian Peter said. "Not after this."

No. As the first team in 39 years to win back-to-back undisputed national titles, the Cornhuskers clearly are a team for the ages. Fast. Tough. Confident. Call them Hurricanes II. And don't laugh at the suggestion that they just might be better than the originals.

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