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Nebraska's hopes quickly disintegrate

Eric Crouch's first- quarter fumble turns into a Miami touchdown. From there, the rout was on.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 4, 2002

AP Top 25 College Football Poll
PASADENA, Calif. -- A lost fumble by the Heisman Trophy winner, a special-teams turnover and multiple defensive breakdowns.

And that was just the first quarter.

For the opening two series of the Rose Bowl, Nebraska -- BCS be darned -- looked like a worthy national championship combatant for Miami. Moments later, the game had devolved into an early 1990s Super Bowl, with the Cornhuskers reprising the role of the Buffalo Bills in the 37-14 loss.

After ending the regular season with a 62-36 loss to Colorado, many argued Nebraska (11-2) didn't belong in the title game. By halftime Thursday, any opposition had been muzzled as turnovers (three in the first half) and shoddy defense helped Miami to a 34-0 lead.

"I thought we had a great game plan. I thought we had prepared harder than (Miami)," Nebraska defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "It was like a slap in the face in that first half."

"It was pretty demoralizing," tailback Dahrran Diedrick said. "Falling down like that at the beginning, that's as bad as it gets."

Two second-half touchdowns applied a cosmetic touch to the final score, but there was no disguising the blowout. Crumbling beneath its mistakes, Nebraska lost two in a row for the first time since 1990.

"The one thing we had preached ... the one thing we had in our minds was that we were going to win the turnover battle," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "But with three turnovers in the first half ... "

The onslaught began on Nebraska's third possession with a fumble near midfield by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch. On the next play, two Cornhuskers defensive backs blanketed a Miami receiver running a post pattern. Meanwhile, Andre Johnson ran down the right sideline unescorted.

Ken Dorsey connected with Johnson for the 49-yard score.

Early in the second quarter, Nebraska had running back Clinton Portis trapped just behind the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Ira Cooper had a clean shot at Portis. He whiffed. Portis raced 39 yards for the score.

On Nebraska's next possession, Crouch threw to tight end Tracey Wistrom. It deflected off of his hands to defensive back James Lewis, who returned it for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

The Hurricanes quickly tacked on two more scores. Game over.

"They have a very fast defense, and they're very physical. They put us in situations where we were in third and long," said Crouch, who finished with 114 yards on 22 carries.

"They didn't have very many breakdowns, if any."

Nebraska was outgained 320-119 in the first half, its average play going for 3.3 yards compared with Miami's 10.7. From the start of the Colorado game until halftime Thursday, the Cornhuskers were outscored 96-36. Miami's 27 second-quarter points set a Rose Bowl record.

After getting pummelled by Colorado's rushing attack, the Cornhuskers were shredded through the air. Dorsey threw for 258 yards by halftime, and Johnson had five catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns at intermission.

"From the beginning, they made the big plays," cornerback Keyuo Craver said.

"I think they proved to everybody they're the best team in the country."

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