PASADENA, Calif. - Top-ranked Miami proved again last night that it is the best team in college football and, in the process, clearly showed why the Bowl Championship Series was a bunch of BCS for sending No. 4 Nebraska to the Rose Bowl.
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.
Leading 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, the Hurricanes scored three times in a span of less than four minutes and four times before the end of the first half in taking a 34-0 lead. The only question left to be answered was who would be more embarrassed by the outcome, the folks at the BCS or Nebraska.
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.
"It was a very unpleasant feeling," Solich said. "It seemed like the game was getting away from us very quickly. Miami played excellent football from the start and we didn't play very well in the first half. If the turnovers had continued [in the second half], it would have been a ridiculous game."
It was, anyway. Even a pair of second-half touchdowns by the Cornhuskers - the first on a 16-yard run by sophomore fullback Judd Davies with 2:39 left in the third quarter, the second on a 71-yard punt return by junior DeJuan Groce early in the fourth quarter - didn't mask the obvious truth.
Nebraska should never have been extended the invitation. Instead of erasing the memories of the Cornhuskers' 26-point loss at Colorado to end the regular season, a game that fueled more debate about the BCS selection process, last night's 23-point defeat raised more questions about whether No. 2 Oregon should have played Miami.
When someone asked if the Hurricanes would like to play the second-ranked Ducks, Coker said, "Why? We're the national champions. It was settled tonight."
Very quickly, in fact, leaving the Cornhuskers, their fans and the folks from the BCS more than a little unsettled.
Miami 7 27 0 3 - 37
Nebraska 0 0 7 7 - 14
First quarter Mia-Johnson 49 pass from Dorsey (Sievers kick), 6:51. Second quarter Mia-Portis 39 run (Sievers kick), 14:33. Mia-Lewis 47 interception return (Sievers kick), 12:52. Mia-Shockey 21 pass from Dorsey (kick failed), 10:40. Mia-Johnson 8 pass from Dorsey (Sievers kick), 3:35. Third quarter Neb-Davies 16 run (J.Brown kick), 2:39. Fourth quarter Neb-Groce 71 punt return (J.Brown kick), 14:28. Mia-FG Sievers 37, 10:04. A-93,781.
First downs 18 16
Rushes-yards 26-110 49-197
Passing 362 62
Comp-Att-Int 22-35-1 5-15-1
Return Yards 111 204
Punts-Avg. 4-35.8 5-40.6
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 4-2
Penalties-Yards 12-85 4-26
Time of Possession 25:33 34:27
Rushing-Miami, Portis 20-104, McGahee 2-7, Gore 2-3, team 2-(minus 4). Nebraska, Crouch 22-114, Diedrick 15-47, Davies 5-16, Collins 6-10. Passing-Miami, Dorsey 22-35-1-362. Nebraska, Crouch 5-15-1-62. Receiving-Miami, Johnson 7-199, Shockey 5-85, Beard 4-41, Portis 4-26. Nebraska, W.Thomas 3-36, Wistrom 2-26.