Huskers power past Hurricanes in 41-31 victory
In a game that Nebraska fans had been waiting on for decades, Saturday night's 41-31 victory over Miami couldn't have been drawn up much better for the latest installment of one college football's more heated rivalries.
Led by another Heisman-worthy performance from senior running back Ameer Abdullah, the Huskers used a power running attack and a stingy defense to keep the Hurricanes in check all night and control the game for essentially all 60 minutes. Abdullah ended the night with 35 carries for 229 yards and three total touchdowns, as NU rushed for nearly 350 yards as a team while forcing three huge turnovers on defense.
With the 1994 national championship team being honored during the game and a Memorial Stadium-record crowd of 91,585 on hand, the Huskers stepped up to the challenge in a big way.
"Well it was a good win for the program and a good win for this football team," head coach Bo Pelini said. "We took care of our business in the outcome. That's what we needed to do... I thought we played very well offensively. I thought we played well at some spots defensively but not good enough. Not up to our standards as far as I'm concerned. But it was a good team win. Overall, it was a heck of an effort."
Despite playing in front of easily the biggest crowd of his football career, UM true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was on his game from the opening snap, completing five of his first six passes for 54 yards to help lead Miami take the first lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by Duke Johnson.
Nebraska's offense responded to the rough start with an impressive scoring drive on its opening possession, with Tommy Armstrong connecting with Kenny Bell for a 40-yard touchdown pass over the middle.
Things finally started to slow down a bit after that, but the momentum shifted back in the Hurricanes' favor when Armstrong fumbled at midfield and UM recovered at its own 44-yard line. A 32-yard pass to Johnson set up a 6-yard scoring pass from Kaaya to tight end Clive Walford that put Miami back up 14-7 just over a minute into the second quarter.
Once again, though, Nebraska was able to answer, this time grinding out its longest drive of the season with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that ate up 6:35. A key third-and-long pass to Bell helped keep the drive alive, and then Armstrong found Abdullah on a swing pass around the right end for a three-yard touchdown to tie it up.
A quick three-and-out by Miami gave the Huskers the ball back with six minutes left in the half for another clock-chewing drive. Nebraska didn't throw the ball once on an 11-play, 50-yard series, and Pelini opted for a 19-yard field goal from Drew Brown as time expired rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the goal line, sending NU into halftime up 17-14.
Nebraska ran the ball 29 times to just four passes in the first half, led by 19 carries for 121 yards from Abdullah. The Huskers also bettered Miami in time of possession 19:10-10:50, racking up 14 first downs and converting 4-of-6 third-down conversions.
Just like they did to end the first half, the Huskers came right back at Miami with a power running game and bulldozed their way on another dominant 11-play, 75-yard drive, with Abdullah punching it in from six yards out.
Though it seemed as if the Huskers had taken all of the momentum, the Hurricanes' offense got right back to work when they finally got the ball back on the ensuing possession. Miami put together an 11-play, 76-yard drive of its own and cut the lead back down to 24-21 on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Kaaya to Malcolm Lewis.
Armstrong was then intercepted on a questionable pass along the sideline, and Miami quickly moved the ball into NU territory with a chance to tie or take the lead. Luckily for the Huskers, though, they got huge break with a turnover of their own, as Johnson coughed up a fumble and Josh Mitchell scooped it up and ran it back 57 yards for a touchdown, putting the Huskers up 31-21.
Things got a little strange on Miami's next time out. Safety Nathan Gerry stepped in front of a Kaaya pass for what appeared to be a game-changing interception, but a roughing the passer penalty on Vincent Valentine negated the turnover. After the player, the teams got into a big scuffle at midfield that drew offsetting personal fouls, but no ejections.
The Hurricanes quickly took advantage by driving all the way down inside the Nebraska 10, but the Husker defense rose to the occasion to keep them out of the end zone. Randy Gregory threw Kaaya for a 10-yard sack and Maliek Collins stuffed Johnson in the backfield to hold UM to a 34-yard field goal.
Nebraska answered with a 39-yard field goal from Brown that bounced in off the left upright, pushing the lead back up to two scores at 34-24 with 9:21 left to play.
Facing a critical fourth-and-4 just outside of field goal range, Joshua Kalu jumped in front of Kaaya's pass for an interception at the NU 30. Once again, tempers flared after the play and Miami was hit with two personal foul penalties that gave the Huskers the ball at UM 40. Six straight runs by Abdullah led to a 10-yard touchdown for the All-American back, extending the lead to 41-24 with 4:13 to play and all but sealing the victory.
Miami would add one last four-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios with 18 seconds to play, but it was far too little, too late.
With the win, the Huskers wrapped up non-conference play a perfect 4-0 and will now get ready to open the Big Ten season next week when Illinois comes to town for an 8 p.m. kickoff.
"We're 0-0 right now," Abdullah said. "It's a new schedule every time we play a game. We're 0-0 with Big Ten play next week. We're 4-0 and have got a lot experience right now, but in our minds we're 0-0."