Miami started slowly in both halves and, each time, gave false hope to the Cornhuskers and their legions of fans who had taken over this fabled stadium. But the Hurricanes were dominant for long stretches, particularly in the first half, during their 37-14 victory before a crowd of 93,781.
BCS bowlsTostitos Fiesta Bowl
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
No. 2 Oregon 38, No. 3 Colorado 16
Nokia Sugar Bowl
Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
No. 12 LSU 47, No. 7 Illinois 34
FedEx Orange Bowl
Pro Player Stadium, Miami
No. 5 Florida 56, No. 6 Maryland 23
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
No. 1 Miami 37, No. 4 Nebraska 14
It hardly mattered. The Hurricanes completed the third 12-0 season in school history and won their fifth national championship since 1983. They were voted No. 1 unanimously in the Associated Press media poll and USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, both released early this morning.
The victory also completed a remarkable first season under coach Larry Coker and the resurgence of a program that went on NCAA probation in 1995.
"Obviously it's very exciting for us. It's been an unbelievable run," said Coker, the first coach to lead his team to an unbeaten record and national championship in his first season since Michigan's Bennie Oosterbaan in 1948. "I'm extremely proud of the effort they've given and the adversity they've overcome. To be able to play in this game, and to win it decisively, is a great tribute to our players."
Led by the passing combination of junior quarterback Ken Dorsey and sophomore wide receiver Andre Johnson, as well as a suffocating defense that turned Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, this year's Heisman Trophy winner, into a human tackling dummy, the Hurricanes were in total control.
In being named the game's co-MVPs, Dorsey completed 22 of 35 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns while Johnson had seven receptions for 199 yards, including touchdown catches of 49 and 8 yards. Tailback Clinton Portis gained 104 yards on 20 carries and scored once for Miami.
"I have faith in them [receivers] that they're going to get open. One of my goals was making every ball catchable," said Dorsey, who again got terrific protection by his offensive line and was not sacked. "I wanted my guys to make some plays. Andre stepped us huge for us tonight."
Said Johnson: "I knew Dorsey would get the ball in the right place. My big thing was to make the plays."
Johnson broke free for his first touchdown after bumping against Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver, who fell to the ground at around his team's 40-yard line and never recovered. Tight end Jeremy Shockey caught five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
But it was Miami's fast and physical defense that might have set the tone, forcing an early fumble against Crouch and later intercepting him, with cornerback James Davis returning the pick 47 yards for a touchdown to give the Hurricanes a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
It was only one of several big plays by the defense, which held the Cornhuskers to a season-low 259 total yards. Though Crouch broke a couple of long runs in gaining 114 yards on 22 carries, he completed only five of 15 passes for 62 yards and was sacked three times.
"I think they knew we were fast, but I don't think they realized how physical we were," said sophomore linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who silenced the Cornhuskers for good when he stuffed I-back Thunder Collins on a last-ditch fourth down play in the fourth quarter. "We made the adjustments faster than they did."
The performance by the Hurricanes, particularly in the first half, was reminiscent of several games Miami played this season - from the time it ran out to a huge lead at Penn State in the season opener, through its first-half dominance at Florida State, to one-sided wins over Syracuse and Washington.
As the low-key Coker said after last night's game, "When we start hitting on all cylinders, we can be a very good football team."
While Nebraska (11-2) finally gave its 60,000 or more fans something to cheer about in the second half, the Cornhuskers showed they didn't belong on the same field with Miami. Things got so bad that the Nebraska fans started giving ovations to first downs and botched extra points by Miami.
"They were very impressive in the first half," Crouch said. "We didn't put points on the board and had some turnovers that really hurt us. It really hurts to lose this football game. We didn't play well in our last two games, and that's disappointing."
The 99 points Nebraska surrendered in its last two games - including the 62-36 loss to Colorado - was the most the Cornhuskers had given up in back-to-back games since 1945. Asked about the first half, Nebraska coach Frank Solich didn't try to soft-pedal his team's horrendous performance.