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Huskers get creamed in title bid
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Huskers get creamed in title bid

By BLAIR KERKHOFF - The Kansas City Star
Date: 01/04/02 00:12

PASADENA, Calif. -- Miami's 37-14 exclamation point of a victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl on Thursday left no doubt about the Hurricanes' claim as the nation's best team.

It created plenty of doubt about the Cornhuskers' status as the top challenger.

So this was the best the Bowl Championship Series could come up with? The Cornhuskers had three turnovers 18 minutes into the game, were down five touchdowns at halftime and its fans were cheering first downs into the third quarter.

"We didn't play well enough to make it a competitive game," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "It was a very unpleasant feeling. Without question it tarnishes the season for us."

Oregon couldn't have felt too good about it either. The Ducks were denied an opportunity to play in the BCS title game when the Cornhuskers beat them out in the final BCS standings.

Oregon walloped Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday, and the Cornhuskers' embarrassing performance only reinforced the notion that the voters who ranked the Ducks second ahead of the Buffaloes and Nebraska would be better matchmakers than the BCS.

By winning, Miami automatically finished first in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, and the Hurricanes were expected to win the Associated Press poll by a wide margin. It's the fifth national title for a program that dominated college football for most of the 1980s.

The Hurricanes, who followed their dynasty with a down stretch that included a losing record in 1997, have made it all the way back. They've won 22 straight games -- and made Thursday's victory look easy.

"You have to have breaks along the way to win a national championship," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "This is a great win for our program."

Nebraska not only was denied its fourth championship in the last eight years, but its loss also conjured up recent -- and distant -- nightmares. The Huskers lost their final regular-season game to Colorado 62-36, a benchmark of futility for the Nebraska defense.

Surely, the proud Cornhuskers wouldn't let that happen again. But this game unfolded much like that debacle, with the Hurricanes scoring at will early, rolling up five first-half touchdowns while not allowing Nebraska to move beyond the Miami 33.

The outcome also brought up images of Nebraska blowout losses in bowl games during the Miami dynasty. During that seven-game bowl losing streak, the Cornhuskers didn't possess the speed to keep up with the Florida teams.

That was precisely the Hurricanes' big advantage Thursday. Offensively, well-protected quarterback Ken Dorsey fired strikes to wide receiver Andre Johnson, blowing past cornerbacks in single coverage. Dorsey passed for a career-high 362 yards and three touchdowns, while Johnson caught seven passes for 199 yards and two scores.

"I brought my A game," Johnson said.

Miami's defense dominated the game by stopping Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch and choking off the option most of the night.

"Their team speed stops big gains," said Solich, whose Huskers finished with a season-low 259 total yards in front of 65,000 red-clad fans who turned the Rose Bowl into a land of Lincoln.

The game started on a promising note for Nebraska. A strong pass rush on Dorsey forced a wobbly pass that defensive back Keyuo Craver intercepted.

But Nebraska gave it right back on a Crouch fumble at midfield. On the next play, Johnson streaked by Craver, who had fallen down, and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass that looked like a practice drill for the game's first score.

Miami running back Clinton Portis somehow kept his feet when he appeared tripped up in the backfield and scored on a 39-yard run, opening a two-touchdown lead.

The Hurricanes kept piling up points. Soon after Lewis' interception return, Dorsey found tight end Jeremy Shockey in the end zone from 21 yards out. In a good piece of news for Nebraska, Hurricanes kicker Todd Sievers missed the extra point.

No matter. One series later, Dorsey and Johnson hooked up for their second touchdown of the half, this one from 8 yards, and the Hurricanes' halftime lead was 34-0. The margin was even worse than the 35-3 hole Nebraska dug for itself at Colorado.

"We felt if the turnovers continued it could be a ridiculous game," Solich said. "We had it in our mind we were going to win the turnover battle, and we didn't."

All content © 2002 The Kansas City Star