PASADENA, Calif. – Nebraska players looked at the tape and couldn’t understand the hype.
Miami’s defense entered the Rose Bowl ranked 40th in the nation in stopping the run, and would appear to be vulnerable against the Huskers’ No. 1 rushing offense.
But in Miami’s 37-14 victory, the ‘Canes held the Huskers to 197 rushing yards, well below their season average of 314.7. Tailback Dahrran Diedrick, the Big 12’s leading rusher, had 47 yards on 15 carries, and Thunder Collins had only 10 yards on six carries.
The Miami defense did especially well against Nebraska quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. Crouch could not muster anything in the air (5-of-15 for 62 yards), and was equally unable to run Nebraska’s option-oriented offense effectively.
Crouch did gain 114 yards on 22 carries, but most of that came on a few long runs. More importantly, he was held without a touchdown for the first time this season.
“[Defensive Coordinator Randy Shannon] established a game plan where we attacked Crouch early,” defensive tackle Matt Walters said. “We wanted to dictate the game early on and we did.”
Miami’s run defense had been somewhat maligned after allowing 167 yards on the ground in its 26-24 win at Virginia Tech. When the Hokies used the option formation in that game, they did so with success.
But against Nebraska, Miami was more than ready from the outset, picking up 10 of its 13 tackles for losses in the first half. Once the Huskers’ option was derailed, the Hurricanes – who led the nation with 45 takeaways during the regular season – picked up where they left off, forcing a fumble and an interception.
Both turnovers resulted in touchdowns, culminating in James Lewis’ 47-yard interception return – UM’s nation-best 11th non-offensive touchdown of the season.
“They tried to get us on the play action but we knew it was coming,” Lewis said. “The front seven allowed me to not focus on the run and stopping it myself.”
The Huskers appeared to be demoralized by the interception. They couldn’t sustain a long or successful drive, punting or turning the ball over on downs on their last three possessions before halftime. For the first time this season, Nebraska was held scoreless in the first half.
“It’s demoralizing to a team when you turn the ball over,” Walters said. “When on defense, you like to be on the sideline to get a break, but then your offense turns it over and you have to get back out there when you’re still tired.”
Said Miami coach Larry Coker: “That was a decisive blow in the game. Nebraska isn’t the type of team whose strength is to come back.”
The Huskers did try and come back from their 34-0 hole, scoring their first touchdown on the second drive after halftime.
But after that the Hurricanes stiffened – keeping the Huskers out of the end zone any time they remotely came close. Miami’s defense surrendered just seven points in the game, the other touchdown coming on a punt return.
“We got tired of hearing we couldn’t contain Crouch or stop the run,” defensive tackle William Joseph said. “We had something to prove on defense and we came out and did it.”