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Thu, 02 Jan 1992

Miami Defense Smothers NU
Huskers Dealt Shutout First Time in 18 Years

Lee Barfknecht

In Wednesday night's 58th annual Orange Bowl, top-ranked Miami's defense left 10th- and 11th-ranked Nebraska with zero hopes for an upset.

The Hurricanes handed the Huskers their first shutout in 221 games over 19 seasons - 22-0 - to lay claim to a fourth national championship in nine years.

Nebraska hadn't been blanked since a 27-0 loss at Oklahoma on Nov. 23, 1973, the first year Tom Osborne became head coach.

Miami, 12-0, was ranked first in the Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters entering the game and was tied for first with Washington in the CNN/USA Today coaches' poll.

Washington also moved to 12-0 with a 34-14 drubbing of No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

One of two common opponents for the two undefeated teams was 9-2-1 Nebraska, which lost 36-21 to the Huskies on Sept. 21.

So who will Osborne vote No. 1?

He won't say.

"They are both really good," he said. "I don't think a whole lot was done today to change how they were ranked earlier.

"They both played awfully well, so I couldn't say."

Nebraska came into the Orange Bowl first nationally in rushing, third in total offense and third in scoring.

But the Huskers never got inside the Miami 20-yard line, ran for only 82 yards and gained 171 yards overall in suffering a fifth straight bowl loss.

The last time Nebraska's offensive statistics were that feeble was the last time it played Miami. In the Orange Bowl after the 1988 season, the Hurricanes won 23-3 and held the Huskers to 80 yards rushing and 135 total yards - both lows in the 30-year Osborne-Bob Devaney era.

"I don't know if I've ever been around a defensive performance like this one," Miami Coach Dennis Erickson said in talking about the first Orange Bowl shutout since Alabama's 17-0 blanking of Oklahoma in 1963.

Osborne didn't disagree after a first-hand look at the nation's top point-preventing defense, averaging 8.3 a game.

"They were awfully quick, and they were stronger up front than we thought," he said. "The key is that they did a good job penetrating our offensive line and stopping our running game."

Nebraska netted 4 yards on its first six possessions, not getting a first down against Miami's gap-shooting 4-3 alignment until there was 6:11 left in the second quarter.

Overall, 24 of NU's 57 offensive plays resulted in no gain or minus yardage.

The Huskers entered Miami territory only three times in 14 possesions. One of those was because they started there after an interception.

"Coming in, we thought we could move the ball and score," Osborne said. "But Miami really played well."

The victory ensures that the Hurricanes will boost its NCAA record of consecutive finishes in the top three to six years.

For the Huskers, it is the fifth straight year their bowl opponent will finish in the top three.

Miami took a 13-0 lead in the first 14 minutes by scoring on its first three possessions.

The Hurricanes added running back Larry Jones' 1-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the second half and Carlos Huerta's career-best 54-yard field goal in the third quarter to complete the scoring.

Jones, a redshirt freshman and U of M's third-stringer at his position, was named the game's most valuable player after rushing 30 times for 144 yards.

Jones played because No. 1 back Stephen McGuire was out with a knee injury and No. 2 back Martin Patton was suspended for disciplinary reasons.

Nebraska missed a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter. Then midway through the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Mickey Joseph led a 69-yard drive to the U of M 20 before he lost a fumble while trying to fake an option handoff to the fullback with 7:43 to play.

The Huskers never got the ball back as Miami ground out four first downs before starting a celebration in front of 77,747 fans at Orange Bowl Stadium.

"I thought we generated a little offense in the second quarter," Osborne said. "And in the second half, we moved it sporadically.

"But every time we got something going, we had a turnover or a bad play."

Quarterback Keithen McCant threw two interceptions and finished 6 of 18 for 80 yards. The only other time McCant threw two interceptions this season was against Washington.

"Against these people," Osborne said, "our goal was to play without a turnover. If we had done that, I don't think we would have won the game. But I think we would have been in it."

The Nebraska defense, ranked 49th nationally, gave up 439 yards. But senior cornerback Tyrone Legette intercepted two passes and the Huskers held Miami quarterback Gino Torretta to 19 of 41 completions for 257 yards.

"Our defense, after the first eight or nine minutes, played pretty well," Osborne said. "A lot of it was just adjusting to the surface.

"Our cornerbacks had practiced on grass, but not very much on a wet surface."

Rain fell in Miami most of Wednesday, but few players slipped on the Prescription Athletic Turf field.

Nebraska got itself in a hole on the opening kickoff when Tyrone Hughes fielded the kick 3 yards deep in the end zone and was smashed down at the NU 12.

McCant was sacked for 7 yards on the second play, leading to the first of five Husker punts in six possessions.

After Mike Stigge's 39-yard kick, Miami scored in five plays from its own 49.

On the second play, cornerback Curtis Cotton slipped, allowing Miami flanker Kevin Williams to haul in a 36-yard bomb from Torretta to the NU 9. Torretta and Williams hooked up for an 8-yard touchdown pass on third and goal. Huerta's extra point put Miami up 7-0 with 11:42 left in the first quarter.

After Nebraska gained 3 yards in three plays, Miami moved 60 yards to score again.

Torretta's 38-yard pass to split end Lamar Thomas over Cotton was the big play that set up Huerta's 24-yard field goal. Miami led 10-0 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.

Nebraska gave the ball back on the next play. I-back Derek Brown fumbled McCant's high pitchout and Miami cornerback Ryan McNeil recovered at the Husker 14.

The Hurricanes moved to a third-and-goal at the 1. But an illegal procedure penalty cost them 5 yards. After Torretta threw incomplete, Huerta kicked another 24-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.

Penalties kept Miami from increasing that lead.

Two plays after another Nebraska punt, Williams raced 70 yards to the end zone on a reverse, but a holding penalty nullified it.

Miami still moved to the NU 40 before an offensive pass interference penalty - 15 yards and loss of down - stopped the drive and forced the first Hurricane punt.

After Nebraska stalled in three plays again, Miami used pass completions of 9, 11 and 17 yards to get to the NU 21.

But Legette intercepted a Torretta pass at the 1-yard line - the first pick off against him in 117 passes.

"We should have scored another 21 points," Torretta said. "We didn't get the ball in the end zone like we should have."

Nebraska's sixth possession still failed to produce a first down, but Miami also continued to stumble.

Penalties for clipping, intentional grounding and offensive pass interference put the Hurricanes in a fourth-and-48 hole after moving to the NU 24.

Following Paul Snyder's 41-yard punt for Miami, Nebraska finally made some offensive progress.

Fullback Lance Lewis' 4-yard run to the NU 33 with 6:11 left in the half gave the Huskers' their initial first down.

Four plays later, McCant's 32-yard bomb to tight end Johnny Mitchell put the Huskers in Hurricane territory for the first time at the 28.

Nebraska got to the 21, and was lined up to go for it on fourth-and-three. But a delay penalty pushed the Huskers back to the 26. From there, Byron Bennett missed a 43-yard field goal wide left with 2:30 left in the half.

By adding another half of shutout ball, Miami finished the season allowing just nine touchdowns in 12 games and 100 points overall.

"I was a little surprised as how easy it was since they were the top offense in college football," Hurricane linebacker Darrin Smith said. "This was a great moment for us as a defensive unit."

NU's Lewis called Miami "one of the fastest teams I've played against."

"They hit the gaps real quick," he said. "They knew what we were going to run, and we knew what they were going to run. It was just a matter of who did it better.

"We really have nothing to hang our heads about. We've lost to the two No. 1 teams in the nation." Nebraska quarterback Keithen McCant is sacked by Miami's Anthony Hamlet for a 7-yard loss in the quarter...The Hurricanes sacked McCant five times for 30 yards in losses.


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